Smoke From Wildfires Poses Health Risks For Some

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 | 03:48pm

NASHVILLE – As smoke from several wildfires moves across the state, the Tennessee Department of Health is reminding residents there is an increased risk for a range of health effects, particularly for those with existing respiratory problems, pregnant women, the elderly and young children.

“We are grateful for the efforts of all firefighters and emergency managers, and we pray rain will come soon to aid their efforts,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH.  “Area hospitals are already seeing people affected by the smoke, so we urge residents to stay indoors when and where possible, and to do all they can to reduce their exposure to smoke.”

“Smoke may contain particles producing minor irritation in the eyes and respiratory systems of some people, but for others with chronic lung disease, allergies, asthma and other conditions, smoke can increase the risk of breathing problems, heart attacks and other threats to health,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD.  “While young children and the elderly are most at risk, all of us should reduce exposure to smoke and seek medical care if needed.”

Evidence of potentially harmful exposure to smoke may include difficulty with breathing, light headedness, dizziness, chest pain and other symptoms. TDH recommends the following for personal protection:

  • If you have asthma or any other lung disease, consult your healthcare provider about medicines you are taking and any health effect you believe is associated with smoke.
  • Limit outdoor activities when smoke is smelled or seen.
  • Keep clean air filters in your home heating/cooling system and keep windows and doors closed as much as possible.
  • Consider using portable air filters to help reduce indoor air particle levels. Those with High Efficiency Particulate Air, HEPA, filters can be effective in removing irritants such as wildfire smoke.
  • Most dust masks commonly found at hardware stores will not protect your lungs from the small particulates found in smoke.  Those considering the use of stronger N-95 masks should know these can significantly increase the work of breathing, possibly creating increased problems for those with impaired lung function or other respiratory conditions. 
  • Avoid use of fireplaces, candles or gas stoves, and exposure to tobacco smoke inside your home.
  • Vacuuming in your home may stir up particulates in your home or business; avoid use of those without HEPA filters.

For more information on smoke-related risks from wildfires, visit the American Lung Association website: