Wildfire Smoke and Its Effects on Health

wildfire smoke

Wildfires produce smoke that can reduce air quality for miles around.

2015 has been an especially bad year for wildfires in the US and Canada. These fire destroy millions of acres of forest, damage property, and put residents of affected areas in considerable danger. However, while the fires themselves are obviously dangerous, they produce another harmful byproduct that is much, much less obvious: smoke. The negative effects of smoke from wildfires on respiratory health are often overlooked. However, they can be extremely serious. Public health organizations often issue advisories and smoke warnings for areas that are likely to be subject to wildfire smoke because of how adversely it can affect air quality. In this article, we’ll take a look at what this smoke does to the quality of air, how it impacts human health, and what you can do to protect yourself from it.


  What Does Wildfire Smoke do to Air Quality?


We all know that any smoke is bad for respiratory health. Why is wildfire smoke of special concern? There are two fundamental reasons. The first is that wildfires often rage across immense areas, and any air masses or winds that move through those areas quickly become laden with the particulate matter that makes up the smoke. This means that wildfires can reduce air quality uniformly in huge areas, making the bad air very difficult to get away from. The second reason is that wildfires burn at uneven temperatures in forests, which creates a wide range of different sized particulates. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, larger particles are actually of much less concern. Large ash particles, while irritating to the upper respiratory system, are typically caught before they can reach your lungs. Smaller solid particles and liquids suspended in the air are much more dangerous, as they can easily get into your lungs and bronchial tubes. Needless to say, heavy concentrations of many sizes of particulate matter in wildfire smoke make it a challenge on both fronts.


  Health Effects of Wildfire Smoke


Wildfire smoke can easily aggravate existing respiratory diseases such as asthma, making it very difficult for those suffering from such conditions to breathe easily. Smaller particulates that make it down into the lungs and from there are spread to the bloodstream can also have a negative effect on those with heart conditions. However, the risk is not just to people who already have an illness. The various gases in wildfire smoke, which include both carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, can have negative effects on anyone. For this reason, it is important to keep a close eye on any respiratory symptoms while you are in an area under a smoke warning. If any notable symptoms develop, it is best to consult a physician as soon as possible.


  How to Prevent Health Problems Associated With Wildfire Smoke


If you live in an area that is under a smoke warning because of a wildfire, there are a few basic steps you can take to protect yourself. The first, and most obvious, is simply to stay inside as much as you can. Larger particles will likely not make it into the air in your home. You can also set your air conditioner to recirculate the air in your house rather than pulling new air in from outside. The best thing you can do for yourself, however, is to put a residential air purifier to use in your home. HEPA air purifiers can capture even the smaller particulates that cause the bulk of health problems associated with wildfire smoke. This is especially important if you live in the northern or western parts of the US or southern Canada, where wildfires reduce air quality every year.


To find a residential air purifier right for your home, you can check out our complete line of HEPA purifiers here.

For more information and recommendations on how to reduce health risks caused by wildfire smoke, you can find a complete fact sheet issued by the American Lung Association here.




If you live in an area affected by nearby wildfires, smoke in your area may be putting your health at risk. By following a few simple steps, you can protect the health of yourself and your family. Using a HEPA filtered air purifier is one of the best ways to ensure that the air you are breathing is clean and free from harmful particulates.