Breathing easier when exposed to smoke from fires

Smoke released by any type of fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter. Smoke can contain many different toxic chemicals, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins. The type and amount of particles and chemicals in smoke varies depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available, and the burn temperature.

Exposure to high levels of smoke should be avoided. Individuals are advised to limit their physical exertion if exposure to high levels of smoke cannot be avoided. Individuals with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions (e.g., asthma), fetuses, infants, young children, and the elderly may be more vulnerable to the health effects of smoke exposure. Try not to exercise in a smoky environment whenever possible.

Two of the major agents in smoke that can cause health effects are carbon monoxide gas and very small particles. These particles can cause headaches, reduce alertness, and aggravate angina (cardiac chest pain). Inhaling fine particles can cause a variety of health effects, including respiratory irritation and shortness of breath, and can worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. During increased physical exertion, cardiovascular effects can be worsened by exposure to carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Once exposure stops, symptoms from inhaling carbon monoxide or fine particles generally diminish, but may last for a couple of days.

Long-term exposure to ambient air containing fine particles has been associated with increases in cardiovascular disease and mortality in populations living in areas with higher fine particulate air pollution. Frequent exposure to smoke for brief periods may also cause long-term health effects. When it is necessary to work in heavy smoke, use appropriate respiratory protection to reduce exposure to the particles and gases in smoke.

If you live or work near wildfires, we suggest a few simple things to improve your health. Purchase a good quality HEPA air filter for use in an office during the day and your bedroom while you sleep. Keep the windows of your house closed to reduce particulates. After major wildfires, change your AC filters and clean the surfaces in your home and office.

Source: https://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/air/smoke_from_fire.htm

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