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What is the health threat

FAQs on air quality

Q: What is the health threat from wildfire smoke?

A: Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can irritate your eyes or your respiratory system and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. How much and how long you are exposed to the smoke, as well as your age and degree of susceptibility, play a role in determining whether or not you are likely to experience smoke-related health problems. If you are experiencing serious medical problems for any reason, seek medical treatment immediately.

Q: Where can I find information about the air quality in the area I live?

A. Check the local air quality index by going to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s website at

Q: How can I protect myself and my family from the harmful effects of smoke?

A: The best thing to do is to limit your exposure to the smoke. Strategies to decrease exposure to smoke include staying indoors whenever possible, using air conditioners (air conditioned homes usually have lower air exchange rates than homes that use open windows for ventilation), using mechanical air cleaners, keeping windows closed while driving in a vehicle, and minimizing other sources of air pollution such as smoking tobacco, using wood burning stoves, burning candles or incense, and vacuuming. Drinking lots of water can help keep your airways moist, which may reduce symptoms of scratchy throat and coughing.

Q: How can I tell if the smoke is affecting me or my family?

A: The following are useful tips for detecting early symptoms of smoke effects:

• Smoke can cause coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, and runny nose.

• People who have heart disease might experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, or fatigue.

• Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions such as heart or lung disease, respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the following ways:

• Inability to breathe normally

• Coughing with or without mucus

• Chest discomfort

• Wheezing and shortness of breath

• When smoke levels are high, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms.

Q: If I have respiratory problems and can’t reach my doctor, where should I go?

A: If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or go to the hospital emergency room immediately.

Q: Should I wear a dust mask or N95 respirator?

A: N95 respirators and dust masks are made of filtering material that fit over the nose and mouth, although they filter only smoke particles and do not offer protection against toxic gases and vapors.

For the best protection against smoke, N95 respirators and dust masks must be NIOSH tested and approved, firmly fit over your nose and under your chin, and have two straps. One strap should be placed below the ears and one strap above, and the metal part of the mask should be pinched tightly over the top of your nose. Clean shaven skin provides the best fit. Take frequent breaks, and replace the masks at least once daily. While both N95 respirators and dust masks offer protection against smoke particles, filtering face-piece respirators and masks can make breathing more difficult and can lead to increased breathing rates and heart rates. They can also contribute to heat stress. Because of this, respirator use by those with heart and respiratory diseases should only be done under a doctor’s supervision.

Q: Will a wet towel or bandana provide any help?

A: A wet towel or bandana is not recommended. While they may stop large particles, fine ones can still get into the lungs.

Q: Will I suffocate in my house?

A: No. The most common call for evacuation during a wildfire is due to the direct threat of the fire, not smoke. Leaving the area of thick smoke may be an option for those who are sensitive to smoke. Those without air conditioning must also remember not to become overheated by closing all windows.

Q: What should I do if I must drive to work?

A: You can reduce the amount of smoke particles in a vehicle by keeping the windows closed and using the air conditioner along with the re-circulate feature. The car’s ventilation system typically removes a portion of the particles coming in from outside.

Q: Our community has an outdoor game scheduled this evening. Should we cancel it?

A: All persons in areas affected by heavy wildfire smoke should consider limiting outdoor activity and staying indoors whenever possible to minimize exposure to the smoke. In settings of prolonged, heavy exposure to wildfire smoke, public health and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality may recommend canceling such activities. Stay tuned to you local news for the latest information.

Q: What should I do about closing up my house when it is so hot in there?

A: If it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed and you do not have an air conditioner, seek alternative shelter by visiting family members, neighbors, or public buildings that have air conditioning. You may also spend a few hours visiting an air conditioned location such as a mall, movie theater, or library.

Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials...

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