Respirator masks can be effective in reducing exposure to smoke particles, however they should only be used after first implementing other, more effective methods of exposure reduction, including staying indoors with doors and windows closed, reducing activity, and using HEPA air cleaners indoors to reduce overall smoke exposure.
For adults, NIOSH N95 or P100 masks, when worn correctly, have been shown to filter particles and improve the quality of the air being inhaled.
Masks can be ordered online or purchased at hardware stores.
People with respiratory or heart conditions should consult with their healthcare provider prior to wearing a respirator mask.
Effective masks are labelled NIOSH N95 or P100 and must fit properly or they are ineffective.
Surgical masks, dust masks, and bandanas or other face coverings do not offer protection from particle pollution.
Children should not wear these masks – they do not fit properly and can impede breathing. If the air quality is poor enough that a child requires a mask, the child should remain indoors, in a safe place, and evacuation should be considered.
Ash may be irritating to the skin, nose, and throat, and may cause coughing. Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into lungs and may aggravate asthma and make it difficult to breathe.
People with asthma or other lung diseases, pregnant women, children, and older adults should not be in the vicinity while cleanup is in progress because it is easy to stir up ash. Do not allow children to play in ash. Clean all children’s toys before using. Clean ash off pets and other domesticated animals, and do not allow pets on contaminated sites.
AVOID direct contact with ash. If you get ash on your skin, in your eyes, or in your mouth, wash it off as soon as you can.
If you have asthma or another lung disease make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s directions about taking your medicines and following your asthma action plan. Have at least a five-day supply of medication on hand. Call your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen. For individual concerns from specific smoke events, consult a medical professional.
If you have cardiovascular disease, follow your healthcare provider’s directions and call if your symptoms worsen. If you think you are having a heart attack or stroke, dial 9-1-1.
Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs; exposure to the smallest particles can affect the lungs and heart.
Fine particles are respiratory irritants, and exposure to high concentrations can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
Exposure to fine particles can affect healthy people, causing respiratory symptoms and reductions in lung function. Particle pollution may also affect the body's ability remove foreign materials from the lungs, such as pollen and bacteria.
Studies have found that short-term exposure (i.e., days to weeks) to fine particles, a major component of smoke, is linked with aggravation of pre-existing heart and lung disease.
Not everyone who is exposed to wildfire smoke will have health problems. Age, individual susceptibility – including the presence or absence of pre-existing lung (e.g., asthma, COPD) or heart disease, and other factors – determine whether someone will experience smoke-related health problems.
Most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposure and will not suffer long-term health consequences. Certain sensitive people may experience more severe acute and chronic symptoms.
Children, pregnant women, elderly individuals, and people who are sensitive to air pollution (such as those with pre-existing heart and lung disease) should take precautions to limit exposure to wildfire smoke.
Sensitive individuals concerned about the potential health implications of exposure to wildfire smoke should discuss this with their primary healthcare provider and check the Air Quality Index (www.airnow.gov) each day for the air quality forecast and for information about ways to reduce exposure.
Seek a safe location, away from the smoke or wildfire. Stay inside in a safe place with the doors and windows closed.
Reducing outdoor physical activity is an effective strategy to lower the dose of inhaled air pollutants and reduce health risks during a smoke event.
If you have a central air conditioning system in your home, set it to re-circulate or close outdoor air intakes to avoid drawing in smoky outdoor air. Consider upgrading your filter to a HEPA filter with the highest MERV rating suitable to your system. Refer to user manual.
Reduce other sources of indoor air pollution: smoking cigarettes, using gas, propane and wood-burning stoves and furnaces, spraying aerosol products, frying or broiling meat, burning candles and incense, and vacuuming can all increase particle levels in a home and should be avoided when wildfire smoke is present.
People who wish to clean their residences after wildfire smoke events should use cleaning practices that reduce re-suspension of particles that have settled, including damp mopping, damp dusting and using a high efficiency particulate air HEPA filter-equipped vacuum.
The material contained on this website is for informational purposes only. The information on this website is NOT intended to diagnose, treat or substitute for professional medical advice. Those with medical conditions or sensitivities to smoke should seek the advice of a licensed medical provider. If individuals need more information, they should consult a medical professional.