Health & Wellness

Wildfire smoke and your health

Courtney Rupertus
Wildfire smoke and your health

It’d be hard not to notice the wildfire smoke hanging in the Robson Valley right now. It’s something we’ve all become somewhat accustomed to living in a fire prone area, but how often do we think about it affecting our health?

Unfortunately, breathing in the toxic gases and particulate matter that are in the air can cause a range of health symptoms ranging from mild to severe. The gases released from a burning wildfire typically only affect the first responders who are working within the immediate area.

The biggest risk for the public are the tiny particles of tree and plant material, and what size they are; in this case, the bigger the better. Particulate matter larger than 10 micrometers usually only causes irritation to your eyes, nose, and throat, while finer particles (2.5 micrometers or smaller) can be inhaled and cause respiratory issues and severe lung irritation.

Dust masks, surgical masks, scarves, or bandanas are not enough to keep you from inhaling these tiny particles.

So how do you know if the smoke is affecting you?

The most common symptoms will include headache, burning eyes, runny nose, coughing, phlegm, wheezing, or difficulty breathing. If you are at more of a risk, you may experience worsened symptoms if you have a pre-existing health condition, chest pains, palpitations, shortness of breath, fatigue, or chest discomfort.

No one is affected by the smoke in the same way; some will be more prone to symptoms than others. However, you will be at more of a risk if you:

Are over the age of 65.

Have a pre-existing respiratory condition such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema.

Have a pre-existing heart condition such as previous heart attack, angina, congestive heart failure, or an irregular heart beat.

Are pregnant.

Are a smoker or previously long-term smoker.

Children, especially those under the age of seven, are especially at risk and care should be taken to ensure their wellbeing. Sometimes the best thing to do is make arrangements to stay somewhere with cleaner air.

Other ways to limit your exposure to smoke include:

Limiting your outdoor activity.

Keeping your windows closed and reducing indoor air pollutants like burning candles, tobacco smoke, wood burning stove, etc.

Avoiding using the vacuum.

Using a HEPA air filter.

Drinking plenty of water.

Using the air conditioning on recirculate while driving in the car with the windows closed.

If you are experiencing discomfort like burning eyes or a scratchy throat, be sure to increase your fluid intake, use eye drops, and use a humidifier if you have one for some relief. Rinsing your nasal passages with a neti pot or saline spray can help flush out the tiny particles as well.

Alternatively, if you are experiencing more severe health issues, please seek out medical attention right away.