How does wildfire smoke affect your health?

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 DENVER — Sure, Front Range air looks awful today. But just how bad is it for your health?

According to experts at National Jewish Hospital in Denver, healthy children and adults shouldn’t be too worried.

“For most healthy people, low amounts of wildfire smoke are more unpleasant than a health risk,” said Dr. Karin Pacheco with the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at National Jewish. “Many people may have respiratory symptoms when breathing smoky air. The good news is that most symptoms are short-lived, and resolve as smoke dissipates.”

Doctors at National Jewish say healthy individuals are at very minimal risk for any long-term effects from breathing wildfire smoke.  Once exposure to the smoke goes away, so should any symptoms.

Smoke, however, can worsen symptoms for those with asthma, allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Typical symptoms may include difficulty breathing, coughing with or without mucus, chest discomfort, wheezing and shortness of breath, and increased sensitivity to seasonal allergies.

From National Jewish Health:

One way to limit exposure to airborne allergens and irritants is the use of a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter. These filters can be effective for people who have problems with airborne allergens and irritants such as wildfire smoke. HEPA filters are available in room air-cleaning devices and for use on vacuums. People who use HEPA air filters say they feel better and have reduced symptoms.  

Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. They often have one strap, but may have two. Dust masks, as well as surgical masks, will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask has two straps and will be stamped “NIOSH”, indicating it is a certified respirator. N95 masks can also be purchased at hardware stores. When properly worn, they can offer some protection. There needs to be a good seal at all points of contact with your face. Make sure the mask is the proper size for your face. It will not seal properly if there is any facial hair, even stubble. For more information about effective masks and fit testing, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.