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Home > Health Topics > Podcasts > Wildfire Smoke Health Tips

Wildfire Smoke Health Tips

August 25, 2010

William Walker, MD
Contra Costa Health Services

Archived. This is an older podcast and may not contain the latest information.

It’s wildfire season and that can mean smoke-filled skies and air that can pose a health risk.

Hello, I’m Dr. William Walker, Director of Contra Costa Health Services, here to talk to you about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from wildfire smoke.

There are thousands of wildfires in California every year. These wildfires release smoke that can affect the air quality even in places far away from the fire. The smoky air can have negative and damaging effects on people’s health.

Anyone can be affected by smoke, but people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma or lung disease, young children, and the elderly are particularly at risk, so it’s important to follow instructions if a smoke advisory has been issued.

Here are some recommendations to protect yourself from wildfire smoke pollution:

  • Avoid outdoor activities and stay indoors
  • Keep indoor air as clean as possible by closing windows and doors.
  • If it’s hot, run the air conditioner, but remember to keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent smoke from outside getting inside.
  • If you don’t have an air conditioner and it’s too hot to stay inside, seek shelter somewhere with air conditioning, such as a shopping mall or library.
  • When driving, keep car windows and vents closed. If using the car’s air conditioning, set it to re-circulate mode.
  • Masks also can be used to help protect against smoke but make sure to use a mask called a ”particulate respirator“ that has ”N95“ on it, and has two straps that go around the head, not the ears.

Signs that smoke is affecting you may include: coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, and shortness of breath. You may also feel chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, and a runny nose.

Smoke can aggravate pre-existing respiratory problems, such as asthma or lung disease. People with these conditions may also suffer from chest discomfort, and wheezing or shortness of breath. If you have heart disease, you may also experience a rapid heartbeat and fatigue. People with respiratory or heart conditions should consider leaving an area if the smoke pollution is heavy.

If any of your symptoms get worse, call your health care provider immediately.

For more information on how to protect yourself from smoke pollution, including information on masks, visit our website at

Thanks for listening.

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