Can Wildfire Smoke Make You Sick?
Wildfires ravage the country yearly, devastating people, homes, and communities. The damage to properties and health can be extensive and last long after firefighters have extinguished the flames.
Exposure to wildfire smoke can be harmful, affecting people not only in the immediate vicinity but in the rest of the city and even in neighboring states.
It’s essential to understand the risks of wildfire smoke because it’s a hazard that affects millions of people nationwide. Knowing the risks is one way of avoiding dangerous inhalation.
Read this guide to learn how wildfires affect you, the different risk levels, and what you should do if you feel like you’ve become sick from wildfire smoke.
How Does Wildfire Smoke Affect Your Body?
Wildfires are harmful to health because they subject your lungs to high rates of particle pollution. This toxic exposure can damage the lungs when exposed for an extended period. The damage depends on how long the exposure lasted, the intensity of the fire, and the conditions of the space in which it burned.
“Particle pollution” refers to the mixture of solid and liquid droplets that saturate the air at any given time. Usually, harmless molecules like water and carbon dioxide are the only things in the air. However, events like fires can release toxic particles like sulfuric acid, ammonium sulfate, sodium chloride, and other harmful substances.
Smoke usually contains a mixture of gases, microscopic shards of glass and plastic, and chemical irritants. All these substances can travel through the air and damage the eyes, the lungs, the respiratory system, and the heart.
Signs that you have become sick from wildfire smoke include:
- Irritated eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Accelerated heartbeat
- Asthma-related symptoms
- Chest pain
- Wheezing and coughing
- Trouble breathing
- Sinus trouble
If you notice these symptoms of wildfire smoke poisoning, seek medical help immediately. Have your condition treated right away to reduce the spread of damage.
Are Some People More at Risk?
Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to the dangers of wildfire-related health effects than others.
If you suffer from allergies, you will want to avoid contact with wildfires. People with allergies may have more extreme reactions to smoke inhalation. You don’t have to come into direct contact with the allergen to begin reacting to wildfire exposure.
People with Heart or Respiratory Illness
Heart and lung diseases are among the most common diseases, with millions of Americans suffering from cardiovascular disease, angina, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and more.
Keep clear of fires if you are at risk of these diseases, as smoke exposure can worsen the condition.
As a general rule, older adults should be more cautious because they have weakened immune systems and bodily functions—from our bones to our respiratory system, circulatory system, organs, and lungs. Wildfire smoke can take a heavy toll on the elderly for this reason.
What Should You Do if You Feel Sick From Wildfire Smoke?
You should first ensure your safety. Evacuate the area if a wildfire is in your immediate vicinity.
If you’ve already been exposed and feel sick, you should see a doctor immediately. Have them check your respiratory system, lungs, eyes, and heart. That’s where the impact of the smoke exposure is likely to be most intense.
Certain kinds of medicine, from inhalers to pills to nasal sprays, can mitigate the side effects of prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke. Speak with your doctor about which of these treatments is right for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can Breathing Wildfire Smoke Cause Nausea?
Breathing in too much wildfire smoke can cause nausea. Any time there are restrictions on our respiratory system, our body reacts with sensations of nausea.
Nausea is a warning sign indicating you should stop taking something harmful to the body. Whether that’s bad food or toxic smoke, listen to your body when nausea comes calling.
How Can I Proactively Protect Myself Against Wildfire Smoke?
The best way to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is to act proactively before you ever come into contact. If you live in a fire-prone area, like Southern California, Colorado, Arizona, or the Carolinas, you need to take extra precautions against the dangers of wildfires.
The first thing you can do is buy an air cleaner. There are box and room fans that have air cleaning functionality. Many air conditioning systems filter the air, and you can get standalone air purifiers. No matter which device you invest in, make sure you can program it to work automatically.
If wildfires start overnight or without warning, you already want to have an air filtering regimen underway. You don’t want to wait.
You can also keep a stack of N-95 or P-100 masks on hand and check local air quality reports.
Breathe Cleaner Air
The difference between healthy and unhealthy air is massive, and wildfire smoke puts you at considerable risk of lasting effects on your health. If wildfires in your area or neighboring counties have worsened the air quality, seek medical attention.
Always be thinking about how to mitigate the effects of wildfire smoke pollution. But if it’s too late and the fire has already swept through, you may need professional help with the cleanup.