Know the health risks of wildfire smoke and take precautions during air advisories

Smoke produced by several active wildfires has resulted in air quality advisories for many regions of the state in recent weeks, including Southeast, Southwest, Southcentral, Central and the Eastern Interior of Alaska.

Alaskans should check for air quality advisories on the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Air Quality Advisories/Episodes web page (or sign up to receive air quality alerts using DEC’s Air Online Services) and take appropriate precautions to limit exposure to wildfire smoke.

Wildfire smoke as seen from Mile 2 Chena Hot Springs Road on Sunday, July 7, 2019. Photo by Meg Cicciarella/Alaska Division of Forestry

Wildfire smoke as seen from Mile 2 Chena Hot Springs Road on Sunday, July 7, 2019. Photo by Meg Cicciarella/Alaska Division of Forestry

The likelihood that a person will experience health effects from inhalation of wildfire smoke is determined by several factors, including the composition of the smoke, the intensity and length of exposure, and the health of the exposed person. Wildfire smoke inhalation can cause a variety of health effects if inhaled in large enough quantities, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) attacks, chest pain, coughing, congestion, fatigue, headaches, irritated sinuses, rapid heartbeat, runny nose, scratchy throat, shortness of breath, stinging eyes and wheezing.

Children are generally more sensitive to smoke inhalation because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, and because their bodies and airways are still developing. Older adults also tend to be more sensitive to smoke inhalation, especially if they have underlying heart or lung disease. Persons of any age with conditions like asthma, COPD, heart disease or chest pain are especially sensitive to smoke inhalation.

If you have a respiratory or heart condition and your symptoms become worse, contact your health care provider or call 911 in the event of an emergency.

This Air Quality Category Table details  levels of air quality for wildfire smoke based on visibility.

This Air Quality Category Table details levels of air quality for wildfire smoke based on visibility. For a downloadable PDF version of this table go to Air Quality Category Table.

One of the best ways to limit your exposure is to stay indoors with the windows and doors closed. Running an air conditioner or air purifier may also help indoor air quality.

Besides limiting time outdoors, indoor air quality can be improved by not smoking or burning anything inside your house, including tobacco, candles or incense. As soon as outdoor air quality improves, air out your home to reduce indoor air pollution.

These tips and more can be found on the Section of Epidemiology’s Frequently Asked Questions About Wildfire Smoke and on the DHSS Wildfire Smoke web page.

Here are these resources and more for Alaskans concerned about wildfire smoke:

About Alaska Division of Forestry

Alaska Division of Forestry website: http://forestry.alaska.gov/ Mission: The Alaska Division of Forestry proudly serves Alaskans through forest management and wildland fire protection. The Wildland Fire and Aviation Program provides safe, cost-effective and efficient fire protection services and related fire and aviation management activities to protect human life and values on State, private and municipal lands. The wildland fire program cooperates with other wildland fire agencies on a statewide, interagency basis.

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