Serving Colorado's Counties

Technical Update vol. 25 no. 30 - Wildfire Smoke

July 27, 2021

Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Smoke can cause:

  • Coughing
  • A scratchy throat
  • Irritated sinuses
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Stinging eyes
  • A runny nose
  • Asthma exacerbations

If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse. People with heart disease might experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, and/or fatigue.

Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways: inability to breathe normally, cough with or without mucus, chest discomfort, and/or wheezing and shortness of breath. When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some symptoms.

Know Whether you are at Risk

If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema, or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems than healthy people. Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people. Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of bodyweight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.

Limit Your Exposure to Smoke

If you are advised to stay indoors, keep indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.

Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves. Do not vacuum because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and your respiratory management plan. If you have asthma or another lung disease, call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

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. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. For more information about effective masks, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2003-144/.

What This Means for Counties

For more information, contact the CTSI Loss Control team at (303) 861 0507.

A PDF of this Technical Update is available here.

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