Protecting Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

Satellite Smoke Image

Western Washington has seen an increase in wildfire smoke during the summer months. The biggest health threat from smoke is from the fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Wildfire smoke can be especially dangerous for children, older adults, pregnant women, and people with heart or respiratory conditions. These sensitive groups are advised to limit outdoor activities, especially when the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaches levels considered "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" or above. Even healthy people may experience symptoms in smoky conditions or after exposure. Pets can also be affected by unhealthy air and should be brought indoors, if possible.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from outdoor smoke?

  • Use common sense.  If it looks and smells smoky outside, consider postponing yardwork and outdoor exercise. Keep children indoors.
  • Pay attention to local air quality reports.  Stay alert to smoke-related news coverage or health warnings.
  • If you are advised to stay indoors, take steps to keep indoor air as clean as possible. When smoke levels are high, try to avoid anything that burns, such as wood fireplaces, gas stoves, and even candles. Don't vacuum. Vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. 
  • If you have asthma or lung disease, make sure you follow your doctor's directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma management plan. Call your provider if your symptoms worsen.
  • If you have underlying conditions, if you are an older adult, or if you have children, talk with your doctor about whether and when you should leave the area. When smoke is heavy for a prolonged period of time, fine particles can build up indoors, even though you may not be able to see them.
  • Smoke hurts animals too. Keep pets indoors as much as possible. Let dogs and cats outside for brief bathroom breaks if air quality alerts are in effect. Exercise pets when dust and smoke has settled. Learn more at the American Veterinary Medical Association.

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