Massive wildfires continue to burn throughout the west, and the weather conditions may worsen the situation. Thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate, while numerous schools and other public entities have closed due to persistent danger. Smoke from these fires has created unhealthy air quality conditions throughout much of the region. The American Lung Association warns that such smoke poses lethal health hazards to people living and working in surrounding areas, especially those most vulnerable – children and teens, seniors, pregnant women and those living with lung disease.
Everyone, especially residents living with chronic lung disease like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and those with chronic heart disease, should take extra precautions during this time. Those who work outdoors; are under age 18 or over age 65; or have asthma, COPD or other lung diseases, chronic heart disease or diabetes, should monitor their breathing and exposure to smoke.
“The sheer scope of the wildfire has created conditions that put even healthy individuals without lung disease at risk,” said American Lung Association Chief Mission Officer Deb Brown. “It’s important that residents with lung health issues are aware of the dangers, take precautions and stay indoors with closed doors and windows when possible.”
Even after the fire is out, it’s important for residents and outdoor workers to stay alert to the potential damage to their lungs. Soot can spread ash from the fires into the air, making it easy to inhale. One must also stay aware of the potential of coming into contact with asbestos, arsenic, nickel, lead and other hazardous materials that come from older structures that have caught fire. For those returning to their homes to clean up and salvage belongings, the Lung Association points out that the risk is not over: exposure to ash from building fires during cleanup can be dangerous.
The Lung Association also offers the following tips to stay safe from wildfire smoke:
- Speak with healthcare providers before and after wildfires as physicians may have recommendations for medications to cope with the conditions or lessen any symptoms.
- Wear an N-95 mask, protective clothing, gloves and goggles to reduce your exposure to ash during your clean up.
- Scientific research shows that using a high efficiency particulate air purifier to clean the air in your home can help protect your health during a wildfire.
- Consider using an air purifier that has a HEPA filter to capture harmful particles in your home and circulate air around the whole room to help clear the air in your home from smoke.
- When driving through smoky areas, set your air conditioner to recirculate to avoid exposure to the outside air and keep your car windows and vents closed.
- Know when to seek medical attention. If your asthma is triggered or you are having difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider.
“A strategic imperative of the American Lung Association is to improve the air we breathe,” said Brown. “That is why we’re sharing information with the public about wildfires and we’re also partnering with Dyson to provide air purifiers to homes, workplaces and community spaces impacted by the wildfire.”
More information on how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is available on Lung.org. You can also call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) to speak with respiratory therapists and registered nurses about lung health.