Wildfire smoke: Who is at risk, and tips to protect yourself

  • Wildfire smoke from Canada is blowing into parts of the American Northeast
  • The CDC recommends staying indoors as much as possible to stay safe
  • Experts say anyone, even healthy people, can get sick from the smoke

(NewsNation) — Wildfires in Canada are filling large parts of the Northeastern U.S. with smoke. Experts say the air poses a significant health danger, especially for more vulnerable populations.

Breathing in smoke can make anyone sick. Experts say with enough smoke in the air, even healthy people can have immediate health effects, including coughing, trouble breathing, stinging eyes, wheezing, chest pains, headaches and more.

Here are some ways to protect yourself from the health risks.

1. Stay inside

Experts say the best way to minimize risk is to minimize exposure as much as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping your indoor air as clean as possible and keeping the windows and doors closed. If you have one, run an air conditioner with a clean filter and the fresh-air intake closed. If you don’t have an air conditioner and it is too hot to stay indoors with the windows closed, the CDC recommends seeking shelter elsewhere.

The CDC also advises against using anything that burns, such as candles and fireplaces, as that adds to indoor pollution. Additionally, avoid using a vacuum cleaner or smoking tobacco.

2. If you need to go outside, take precautions

If you need to be outside, experts recommend wearing a mask.

Tight masks like N95s will offer some protection if properly worn, according to the CDC, but paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores will not protect your lungs from smoke.

If you do step out, experts advise changing your clothes once you return home.

3. Monitor air quality

A measure of air quality in your local area can be found at AirNow. An air quality index value above 100 means the air is unhealthy.

The CDC also advises people to pay attention to public health messages, from local health warnings to media coverage.

If available, pay attention to local visibility guides that measure the volume of particles in the air.

4. Use an air filter

A freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal can help protect people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions. It can also help reduce the risk for children and the elderly.

The CDC recommends following the manufacturer’s instructions on filter replacement and device placement.


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