Forest Fire Smoke and Your Health
What's in forest fire smoke?
Forest fire smoke is made up of a mixture of gases and very small particles that are produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The small particles in forest fire smoke also occur with many other types of air pollution and have been linked to serious effects on people’s health. Smoke also contains toxic gases like carbon monoxide, that can also be harmful to your health.
Smoke particles are small and so can get deep into your lungs. Some particles are even small enough to get into the alveoli, or air sacs, of your lungs and may be absorbed into the bloodstream.
What are short-term health risks?
Your body will try to protect itself against the smoke particles by making more tears and mucous. This can cause runny noses, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses and headaches. If the smoke is heavy and lasts for days or weeks, you may also develop a cough.
People who already have heart or lung problems may feel the effects of smoke earlier and worse than others in the community.
Who is most at risk?
- Pregnant women-If you are pregnant, your healthcare provider has the best advice for you because he/she knows about your condition.
- People who already have chronic heart or lung conditions
- People who are very active doing work or sports outside
How can I protect myself and minimize the health effects of fire smoke?
- If smoke is affecting your breathing or making you uncomfortable in others ways, move to a less smoky area. Homes can get really hot with the windows closed. If you go indoors to get out of the smoke, be sure that the temperature indoors doesn’t create additional problems for you. Use air-conditioning if it is available and be sure to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- If it is smoky outside, it is best not to go outdoors to do physical activity and a good time to stay indoors with the windows closed.
- If you have an HEPA air cleaner that will reduce levels of small particles in indoor air, use it and stay in the room where it is located.
- Use air conditioning in cars and keep windows closed. Remember, vehicles should never be run in an enclosed space like a garage.
- Avoid using smoke producing appliances such as wood stoves and even candles.
- Do not smoke tobacco inside – smoking puts added stress on your lungs and those around you.
- If you have asthma or other respiratory condition, be vigilant about avoiding smoke and taking your prescribed medicine. Speak with your health care provider to get the specific advice that is right for you.
If you experience difficulty breathing or other symptoms that you cannot control by getting out of the smoke, consult your healthcare provider or call Telehealth Ontario (1-866-797-0000 or TTY at 1-877-797-0007).
When are smoke levels dangerous?
- When visibility is worse, generally the worse the smoke.
- Tune into local media for details and updates on local conditions.
Where can I learn more about local conditions?
Local conditions can change quickly. Please refer to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources :
Thank you to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and the NorthWestern Health Unit for contributing to this document.
For More Information
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