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Could Distant Wildfires Be Impacting My Health?

June 07, 2023

If you’ve gone outside lately, you were likely met by a yellowish haze instead of fresh air.

The wildfires that are raging in Canada might be hundreds of miles away, but we’re certainly seeing – and smelling – the effects.

But is there anything you can do to protect yourself? We asked a pulmonologist.

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The smoke contains dangerous chemicals.

Made up of carbon monoxide and other dangerous chemicals, wildfire smoke can wreak havoc on your eyes, nose and throat.

“This kind of air pollution can impact anyone. You may experience symptoms similar to seasonal allergies – watery eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat or a nagging cough,” says Steven Prunk, MD, director of Pulmonary Medicine at The Hospital of Central Connecticut and MidState Medical Center.

Luckily, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself.

Dr. Prunk offers these four tips to keep you safe until the air clears up:

  1. Limit your time outside – stay indoors if possible
  2. Keep windows and doors closed
  3. Run your air conditioner for climate control
  4. Try to exercise in the house

> Related: Are West Coast Wildfires a Threat to East Coast Air Quality, Breathing?

If you do have to go outside, take these precautions.

Wearing a mask or eye protection can help reduce irritation from the smoke, but don’t break out your cloth or surgical COVID-19 masks just yet.

“For protection from the smoke particles in the air, people would need to wear an OSHA-approved KN95 mask,” Dr. Prunk says.

Keep an eye on these underlying conditions.

“People who have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma, COPD, emphysema or allergies to different irritants can really be impacted by the smoke,” says Dr. Prunk.

“If anyone with these medical conditions is using their inhaler and still having difficulty breathing, they need to call 911.”