From California and the Pacific Northwest to Greece and Spain, dozens of wildfires have erupted across the world in recent months. It’s natural for these blazes to occur seasonally, but climate experts warn that wildfire rates and devastation will increase as global warming worsens.
While the fires themselves are destructive, more and more research also shows how harmful wildfire smoke can be. Sadly, many people suffer from the effects of wildfire smoke without realizing it.
So what makes the smoke so deadly? Read on to find out.
What is wildfire smoke?
As wildfires burn, they destroy everything in their path. From trees and plants to animals and buildings, nothing is safe if it gets in the way. This destruction releases numerous gases and particles into the atmosphere.
The biggest threat to human health is the fine particles found in the smoke. These can make their way into our lungs and other parts of our body, where they can then lead to severe health problems, like respiratory disease.
How smoke impacts our health
While long-term health effects can develop over time, most people react to smoke exposure right away. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Runny nose
- Chest aches and pains
- Sore throat
- Burning eyes
If you have a respiratory condition like asthma, the effects of smoke exposure can be even more extreme. Children, pregnant women, and the elderly are also more vulnerable.
No safety indoors
When a wildfire burns nearby, traditional advice recommends that people stay inside and close their windows. Doing so was thought to limit the harmful effects of smoke. Recent research, however, has shown that staying indoors may not keep people as safe as experts hoped.
The microscopic particles found in wildfires can seep into buildings through shut windows and closed doors. Once there, they can impact indoor air quality, making it difficult to breathe, especially for high-risk groups.
Of course, newer buildings do a better job at keeping our foreign particles, but some of them can still find their way indoors.
How to protect yourself
Staying away from wildfires might seem like a simple solution. However, as the flames become more common and intense, wildfire smoke is beginning to reach further and further away.
For instance, the smoke from fires on the West Coast recently affected air quality in New York City, even though NYC is almost 3,000 miles away.
If wildfires are blazing nearby, investing in an indoor air purifier can help ensure that you breathe in clean air. You should also take steps to limit activities that further harm indoor quality, such as vacuuming and using gas stoves.
If you have to venture outside, make sure to don an N95 mask that can help keep particles from entering your body. Paper and cloth masks won’t be of any use!
A blazing problem
Wildfires and the smoke they cause are serious problems that need to be addressed by governments worldwide. The longer they put off taking action, the more severe wildfires and other disasters will become.
By coming together and solving the climate crisis at hand, we can take collective action towards creating a healthier, happier world.