Risk of Smoke Inhalation as California Wildfires Rage

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Source: MedicineNet Health News

Wildfires are ravaging California across the length of the state, and the danger isn't limited to people living directly in a blaze's path. Breathing deadly smoke is linked to death and injury, especially for infants, the elderly, and people with lung conditions like asthma or COPD.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 10 wildfires were raging from Mendocino County to El Dorado National Forest near Nevada's western border, to Los Angeles and Riverside Counties about 150 miles north of the Mexican border, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire). The size of the wildfires ranged from the 77,000-acre Kincade Fire near Napa to the 200-acre brush fire dubbed the Hill Fire in Southern California, according to the state fire agency.

October's infernos are adding to the wildfire death and damage tally, but casualties and property destruction hopefully won't reach the catastrophic levels seen in the 2017-18 fire season in the state.

"California experienced the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in its history in 2017 and 2018," the Cal Fire website states. "Fueled by drought, an unprecedented buildup of dry vegetation and extreme winds, the size and intensity of these wildfires caused the loss of more than 100 lives, destroyed thousands of homes and exposed millions of urban and rural Californians to unhealthy air. While wildfires are a natural part of California's landscape, the fire season in California and across the West is starting earlier and ending later each year."

It's imperative that people under evacuation orders obey police and fire officials, but people in other parts of the state should take precautions to avoid breathing in the harmful smoke and smog. Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, medical author and editor at MedicineNet, details ways to keep your family's lungs healthy this fire season.

"Smoke from wildfires contains gases along with fine particles generated from burning of trees and plants," Dr. Stöppler writes. "Wildfire smoke can cause a number of physical symptoms, and those most affected include the elderly, children, and people suffering from heart and lung conditions."

To help protect yourself from wildfire smoke, listen to local air quality reports. Some areas provide news reports containing the Air Quality Index (AQI) from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Dr. Stöppler said. Some communities also have visibility guides posted so that you can estimate the AQI based upon how far you can see at a given time.

If a public health message warns you to stay indoors, keep the indoor air clean and take the following eight lung care precautions:

  1. Keep all windows and doors closed.
  2. Run air-conditioners on recirculation mode and use a clean filter.
  3. A high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter may reduce the number of fine particles in indoor air and may help prevent breathing problems.
  4. Don't allow smoking in the home, and do not use candles, fireplaces, gas stoves, or other sources of added smoke.
  5. Even vacuuming should be avoided, since this can increase the number of particles in the air from substances that are already present in the home.
  6. If it's too hot to stay in your home with all the windows and doors closed and you do not have an air conditioner, you should arrange for shelter in another location.
  7. Paper dust masks sold at hardware stores are designed to filter large particles in the air (like sawdust) and will not protect you from inhaled smoke.
  8. If you have a chronic medical condition, be sure to ask your doctor about measures you can take to help control your symptoms when air quality is poor.

QUESTION

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the same as adult-onset asthma. See Answer Original Article

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