As wildfire season approaches, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) wants people to be aware of the symptoms of wildfire smoke exposure and to provide information about where to get help. Smoke from wildfires can travel hundreds or thousands of miles, affecting air quality and creating health hazards, especially for those who are at higher risk of being impacted by its negative effects.
“Families living with low income and who struggle with access to health care and resources may also feel worse effects of wildfire smoke in their neighborhoods,” OHA Public Health Director Rachel Banks said, “Listening out for local warnings and reports while taking protective measures can help reduce those effects for everyone.” Groups sensitive to wildfire smoke also include people with breathing or heart conditions, older adults, infants, children and women who are pregnant.
Exposure to gasses and particles in wildfire smoke may cause symptoms such as watery or dry eyes; persistent coughing, phlegm, wheezing, scratchy throat or irritated sinuses; headaches; shortness of breath, asthma attacks or lung irritation; irregular heartbeat, chest pain or fatigue; and heart attacks.
Smoke levels can change rapidly depending on fire behavior and weather conditions. With that in mind, checking current conditions on Oregon Smoke Information (oregonsmoke.org), viewing the Oregon DEQ Air Quality Index (aqi.oregon.gov), entering your zip code at AirNow (airnow.gov) or using the free OregonAIR app can help keep communities up to date on alerts for their specific area.
If reports show high smoke levels, stay indoors whenever possible and, if you must go outside, consider using a respirator (cloth, dust and surgical masks do not protect against harmful particles). Those living with chronic respiratory conditions like asthma should follow a management and treatment plan as directed by their medical provider. Keep track of your supply of medications and refill prescriptions as early as possible to avoid running out. A minimum five day supply is recommended.
To create a cleaner indoor air space, keep windows and doors closed. Use a portable air filter, a HEPA filter or create a DIY box fan filter with a standard 20” x 20” fan. OHA has a video guide to assist you at bit.ly/DIYboxfanfiler.
Avoid adding pollution to your indoor space and do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces or gas stoves. Do not vacuum, as vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Strenuous outdoor activity should be avoided and for those with pets, walks should be kept to a minimum. Our furry companions are also susceptible to the hazards of wildfire smoke.
Photo by Chris LeBoutillier