Smoke and Your Health

Prolonged exposure to smoke can be harmful to people of all ages, depending on the AQI reading as a measure of smoke density. Smoke can eventually damage your body’s ability to remove large particles and excess phlegm from your lungs and airway. Small particles (PM 2.5) pose the greatest risk, because they can get deep into your lungs, and even into your bloodstream.

Many factors influence a person’s sensitivity to smoke, including severity and duration of smoke exposure and a person’s health. Your health and the health of your family are important. There are things you can do to minimize the impacts of smoke on you and your family.

Smoke is made up primarily of small particles, gases, and water vapor. These particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs, damaging lung tissue and causing respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

Regardless of the source, smoke is a form of air pollution that can pose a health risk. Symptoms of smoke exposure usually include irritation of eyes, nose, and throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, fatigue, or breathing discomfort, even in otherwise healthy people. 

More severe symptoms may include chest tightness, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, lung irritation, wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. 

Who's most at risk?

Take precautions at appropriate AQI level if you are in a sensitive group: 

  • Children should take precautions and limit outdoor activities
  • Recommendations for pregnant or nursing mothers
  • Older adults and people with pre-existing conditions

How do I protect myself?

  • Limit your exposure to smoke. Pay attention to local air quality reports online with the Oregon DEQ and take extra safety measures such as avoiding spending time outdoors.
  • Avoid anything that increases indoor pollution like candles or vacuuming.
  • Close windows and doors.
  • Run a standalone, HEPA grade indoor air purifier. They come in many sizes, so choose one right for at least one room where you spend the most time, or get more than one. You can always move it from a bedroom at night to a living space during the day. 
  • Run an air conditioner if you have one. Keep any fresh-air intake closed (many systems do not have one) and the filter clean. You can use a high-efficiency filter with a MERV 13 rating. Consult a local heating and air conditioning company to see if your system can handle a high efficiency filter like MERV 13. Air purifiers and filters can be purchased at your local hardware store or online.
  • Fine particles, but not hazardous gases, can be filtered with an N95 or N100 face mask. Please do not wear an N95 mask with one-way valves around other people. Exhaled air is not filtered in these masks and does not reduce COVID spread to others. 
  • Ensure a tight fit and check how long your mask is effective. Bandanas and paper dust masks are ineffective and only trap large particles.
  • Avoid smoke exposure during outdoor recreation. Before you travel to a park or forest, check to see if any wildfires are happening or if any prescribed burns are planned. 

Is your air quality hazardous to your health?

Get the latest air quality data from the Oregon Smoke Information blog.

If you feel impacted by smoke, avoid outdoor physical exertion and remain indoors. Contact your medical provider if you experience serious health problems caused by smoke. Anyone experiencing symptoms or with a known or suspected medical condition that could be worsened by smoke should contact their healthcare provider for further advice or call 911 if warranted.

Oregon Health Authority Recommendations

Want to learn more? Check out these tips from OHA to stay healthy during smoky air.

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 more information is needed, consult a medical professional.