School Guidelines And Actions During Wildfire Events
A large portion of a childs day is at school, and schools are a location where we can reach a large number of children with single interventions, making schools a particularly cost-effective option for preserving the health of children. Public schools also provide an opportunity to improve the equity of interventions because these schools are available to every child. This makes it crucially important that schools in underserved communities be prioritized for school-based interventions. However, we have a number of obstacles to making schools a safe and healthy location during wildfire smoke events.
Exposure to air pollution at school should be a concern during non-wildfire times as well as during wildfire smoke events. It has been noted that though there are only a handful of studies, the median PM2.5 levels in American schools are 17.5µg/m3 outdoors and 15.2µg/m3 indoors , above the annual regulatory guidance level of 12 . These levels are even higher in other parts of the world, including many parts of Asia . The median indoor PAH level in American schools was 1.0ng/m3, despite WHO recommendations that no level is safe . As these non-wildfire levels are of concern, we should anticipate that levels may be quite high during wildfire smoke events and work to reduce exposures to air pollution at all times in schools.
How Can Asthma Attacks Be Prevented
If you or a family member has asthma, you can manage it with the help of your health care provider and by avoiding your; triggers. Try to avoid asthma attacks by staying far away from tobacco smoke. Some other helpful tips are:
Jamason C. has had asthma attacks triggered by exposure to secondhand smoke.
I was 16. People were smoking near me. My chest got really tight. I was trying to breathe, trying to get air into my lungs. I couldnt bear it!
Real stories about asthma:
- Do not smoke or allow others to smoke in your home or car. Opening a window does not protect you from smoke.8
- If your state still allows smoking in public areas, look for restaurants and other places that do not allow smoking. No-smoking sections in the same restaurant with smoking sections do not protect adequately from secondhand smoke8even if there is a filter or ventilation system.9
- Make sure your childrens day care centers and schools are tobacco-free. For schools, a tobacco-free campus policy means no tobacco use or advertising on school property is allowed by anyone at any time. This includes off-campus school events.8
- Teach children to stay away from secondhand smoke. Be a good role model by not smoking.8
There is no cure for asthma. However, to help control your asthma and avoid attacks:2
- Take your medicine exactly as your doctor tells you.
- Stay away from things that can trigger an attack.
- Long-term control
Some People Are More At Risk
Its especially important for you to pay attention to local air quality reports during a fire if you are
- a person with heart or lung disease,;such as heart failure, angina, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma.
- an older adult, which makes you more likely to have heart or lung disease than younger people.
- caring for children, including teenagers,;because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, theyre more likely to be active outdoors, and theyre more likely to have asthma.
- a person with diabetes,;because you are more likely to have underlying cardiovascular disease.
- a pregnant woman,;because there could be potential health effects for both you and the developing fetus.
Heres How To Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke
You can gauge the quality of the air around you by checking your local air quality index . Reid recommends the app Smoke Sense, which provides an air quality map and recommendations for what you should or shouldnt do. Air NOW is another tool that sends local alerts about AQIs.
If PM 2.5 levels are high, the best thing to do is stay inside and limit your outdoor activities, Becker said. Its OK for most people to exercise at lower PM 2.5 levels, as the benefits of exercise are thought to outweigh the risks.
If you can afford an air purifier they can be pricey! get one with a HEPA filter. Keep your doors and windows closed. Older homes and rental properties tend to be leakier and allow more air pollution in. You can also purchase a MERV-13 filter and put it in a box fan or your AC unit. Make sure youre regularly cleaning your car filters as they can collect a lot of particles over time.
If you do venture outside when the PM 2.5 levels are high, bring a mask. N95 masks are the gold standard because they filter all of the air that you breathe in. Though surgical masks are less effective, theyre ultimately better than having no barrier between you and the harmful particles in wildfire smoke.
If You Have Lung Disease Chronic Heart Disease Or Diabetes
- Check in with your doctor: People with asthma or other lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases or diabetes should check with their physician regarding any changes in medication that may be needed to cope with the smoky conditions.
- Keep an eye on symptoms: Higher levels of smoke in some areas can make breathing more difficult. If you are experiencing symptoms, please try to contact your physician. If you cannot, asthma patients can follow the asthma action plan and COPD patients can follow the COPD action plan developed with their physician. Use your peak flow meter if prescribed. Do not hesitate to take your medication, and avail yourself of the full spectrum of medications your doctor has prescribed to you.
- Ask about your oxygen use: People using oxygen should not adjust their levels of intake before consulting a physician.
- Know when to seek medical attention: If symptoms are not relieved by the usual medicines, seek medical attention. Symptoms to watch for: wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty taking a full breath, chest heaviness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. If you have any concerns or questions please contact your physician.
- Watch for breathing issues after exposure: If you develop a persistent cough or difficult or painful breathing, call your physician. The first symptoms can appear as late as 24 to 48 hours after exposure. Smoke can remain in areas for many days after the fires have ended.
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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs so sufferers already have compromised breathing. Adding smoke inhalation can make it an emergency situation, Dr. Wang says. “There is a documented increase in emergency room and outpatient visits as well as hospitalizations due to COPD that is exacerbated by breathing wildfire smoke,” she says.
Composition Of Wildfire Smoke And Potential Health Effects Of Specific Pollutant Components Of Wildfire Smoke
It is critical that we understand the components of wildfire smoke and how these are similar to and different from the components of ambient pollution. We know that the major components of wildfire emissions are organic and elemental carbons as well as gases, including carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds . As fires reach the wildland urban interface, other toxic chemicals may be released from the burning of household or industrial goods, but how far these can disperse is much less well understood and they are likely to be relatively local concerns. It is worth noting that the smoke composition can vary with a number of factors, including the composition of the fuel being burned as well as the combustion type and efficiency . Weather and atmospheric conditions also affect which compounds travel from the site of the fire, and therefore affect the exposures to the surrounding populace . In addition, the concentration of high-surface area particulate matter in wildfire smoke may provide a substantial surface to which other toxic compounds can adsorb . Primary components of wildfire smoke are also capable of reacting in the atmosphere to create secondary increases in other compounds , but these secondary reactions can be even more difficult to predict due to the plethora of factors involved . Although our ability to model the components of wildfire smoke has progressed in the last decade, there is still room for improvement .
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Wood Smoke And Asthma
Smoke from burning wood or other plants is made up of a complex mixture of harmful gases and small particles, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds , dioxin and inhalable particulate matter .;PM is the principal pollutant of concern from short-term exposures to wood smoke.
Poor Air Quality Can Trigger Asthma Symptoms In Severe Cases
ROANOKE, Va. – Experts with the Asthma and Allergy Center in Roanoke say anyone can be affected by high pollution levels and poor air quality.
The haze spreading to the rest of the country from wildfires out west can trigger symptoms for those with severe asthma.
People with asthma and other respiratory problems are more susceptible to pollution, and smoke creates tiny particles in the air that can get into the lungs and cause inflammation.
Dr. Saju Eapen, an allergist and immunologist with the Asthma & Allergy Center, says this time of year it can be especially difficult to control reactions.
Its also grass pollen season, so people, when theyre outside, are going to have trouble from just the pollen itself. Now that you add bad air quality, its just going to be a double whammy for them, says Dr. Eapen.
Doctors suggest patients with severe asthma symptoms keep an eye on the air quality levels, and if necessary, stay inside with air conditioning and proper ventilation to recirculate the air.
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Air Pollution Has Been Linked To Real Health Risks
A review in Science of the Total Environment concluded that exposure to wildfire smoke or particulate matter was associated with an increased risk of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , bronchitis, and pneumonia. It was also linked to early death.
Of course, there are the immediate effects of breathing in smoke and soot, especially if you’re close to the fire itself and the smoke is especially thick. Smoke inhalation symptoms can include a cough, shortness of breath, injury to the throat and lungs, and, in extreme cases, can cause oxygen to be cut off from the heartwhich could be fatal.
But more long-term, poor air quality has also been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, kidney disease, fertility problems, and spikes in blood pressure. Some research suggests it may even be linked to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Research shows that children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions are the most vulnerable to these and other health risks from air pollution. And the smaller the pollution particles are, the greater the danger.
Fine particulate matter tends to stay in the air longer and travel farther, compared to heavier components of smoke that settle to the ground more quickly, such as dust and ash. This makes them a concern not just for people affected by wildfire smoke, but also for people in neighboring cities, counties, or even states.
Impacts Beyond The Lungs
With a vast majority of the Bay Area affected by the smoke, it was difficult to avoid inhaling some particles. For people who may be concerned about their respiratory system, the good news is that the lungs of most healthy adults can recover fully from smoke damage, even in severe cases, according to Balmes. Its similar to recovering from a severe bout of pneumonia, he said.
Of course, groups that are more vulnerable to long-term effects of pneumonia are also more likely to be affected by smoke: young children, the elderly and people with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Smoke inhalation can exacerbate asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , though the effects may not be permanent. In some cases, extreme smoke inhalation can cause asthma that is triggered by future exposures to smoke.
While most people in vulnerable groups will recover once the fires are out, Balmes suggests that people continuing to experience wheezing, cough, or shortness of breath see a health care provider.
During the crisis, public health officials urged people to stay indoors and avoid bringing in any air from the outside. N95 respirators, which filter out PM2.5, were widely recommended and used in hospitals for those whose health was more vulnerable.
Surprisingly, the greatest risk factor with inhaling the smoky air isnt respiratory, but cardiovascular.
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Forest Fires And Lung Health
Forest fires are often a concern in Canada, especially during dry, hot summers. People all over Canada may be affected by the smoke from forest fires. The Canadian Lung Association urges those with lung disease such as asthma and COPD to monitor their breathing and avoid exposure to smoke. If breathing problems develop, refer to your action plan or call your health-care provider.
Wildfires + Your Lungs
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Last year, I;had the pleasure to introduce Dr. Sarah Hendersons session at the Asthma Society of Canada;2015 conference on environment and asthma. Dr. Henderson;,;is from the University of British Columbia, and presented on the effects of heat on asthma. Part of this discussion included a portion of her research on the effect of forest fires on asthma, followed by what you should do if smoke from wildfires is causing you problems. Note: Ive determined that I *think* the common term is;wildfire in the US and;forest fire in Canada. Im going to use forest fire, but they are the same according to most sources.
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Whats The Difference Between Symptoms Related To Wildfire Smoke Exposure And Covid
Smoke exposure and COVID-19 symptoms can overlap. For example, dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing are symptoms of both.
COVID-19 symptoms may be accompanied by fever or chills, muscle or body aches and diarrhea. Visit our COVID-19 Information Centerfor a complete list of symptoms and more information about the coronavirus.
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Tools For Public Health Responses To Wildfire Smoke Exposure In Children
Given the adverse effects of wildfire smoke for children shown in the previous section, it is crucial to consider how to minimize exposures to mitigate these health effects, particularly for children in disadvantaged communities. Guidance here is limited, as there have been few intervention studies regarding wildfire smoke exposures. In a questionnaire study following a Southern California wildfire, children who reported wearing masks, using air conditioning, or restricting outdoor time had less of an increase in symptoms with increasing days of exposure . A study on the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in California found that in a real-life setting where multiple interventions were possible that only the duration of use of a portable HEPA air cleaner was associated with decreased symptoms . The authors surmised that this could be related to the ease of using the air cleaner for the duration of the fire period, whereas mask use was subject to inconsistent wearing and poor fit and often people who evacuated the area did not do so for long.
With these results in mind, the second half of the current paper will explore three tools which may be useful as part of a public health response to protect children from the effects of wildfire smoke: the use of low-cost sensor data for decision making, consideration of mask or respirator use in children, and minimizing exposures at schools.
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Information For Health Professionals
Increased presentations for asthma should be;expected around fire zones and in other areas;affected by smoke haze.
General practices and pharmacies around these;areas should ensure they have good supplies of;reliever medications and spacers, particularly for;emergency use.
It is important to note that information contained in this brochure is not intended to replace professional medical advice. Any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.;
Wildfire Smoke And Lung Cancer Risk
Meteorologists are fond of comparing wildfire smoke inhalation to cigarette smoking as a way to demonstrate the ongoing risk to the public in their forecasts. This is not really a good comparison, our doctors say. “For starters, cigarettes are addicting and no one is out there intentionally or habitually breathing wildfire smoke,” Dr. Gerber says.
Dr. Wang points out that the chemical composition of wildfire and cigarette smoke is very different, with wildfire smoke not containing the harmful tobacco and other cancer-causing toxins found in cigarettes.
That doesn’t mean you’re in the clear when it comes to lung cancer or other cancers. There is no definitive research yet but that may be because there are so many variables involved. “Your cancer risk really comes from what’s burning, how much smoke you’ve inhaled, and how long you’ve been exposed to it,” Dr. Gerber says. “I think we will learn a lot more about this in the coming years.”
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How Smoke Affects Your Health
Particulate matter is the principal pollutant of public health concern related to wildland fire smoke. Coarse particles about 5 to 10 microns in diameter can deposit in the upper respiratory system. Fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter can penetrate much deeper into the lungs. Typically wildland fire events result in relatively short-term smoke exposures . With precautions that reduce smoke exposure such as limiting outside exertion during smoke events, healthy individuals may not suffer serious long-term effects although temporary minor irritation may result when particulate matter concentrations are elevated. The effects of breathing wildland fire smoke include eye and throat irritation, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, and nausea.
Those who are most sensitive to exposure to particulate matter include people with heart or lung disease, children, and the elderly. For sensitive individuals smoke can aggravate lung disease leading to asthma attacks or acute bronchitis and can also increase the susceptibility to respiratory and cardiovascular illness. For more information on health effects of particulates read the EPA Partical Pollution and Your Health guide.