California Wildfires: How Smoke Can Affect Your Health

The devastating fires are roaring through California once again, and have already burned thousands of acres and caused local people to seek refuge away from their home. While the danger of wildfires to residents living within the range of the fire is evident, those in surrounding areas should be aware of how the smoke from these fires can also affect your health.

Read on to learn how wildfire smoke can affect your health and what safety measures you can follow to lower the exposure for you and your family.

California Wildfires

What Health Issues Can Wildfire Smoke Cause?

Wildfire smoke is a combination of burning vegetation, construction materials, and some gases, including carbon monoxide. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), smoke inhalation can cause several short and long-term effects of wildfire smoke on your health, including:

  • Irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat (burning eyes and runny nose)
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Worsens existing lung, heart, and circulatory disorders, including asthma during night and day, and angina

Who Are at Higher Risk for Wildfire Smoke Inhalation?

Smoke inhalation is most likely to cause health complications in:

  • People who are suffering from lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis.
  • People with respiratory infections like pneumonia, colds, or flu.
  • People with prevailing heart or circulatory disorders, such as coronary artery disease.
  • People with a previous history of stroke or heart attack.
  • Children below 18 because their lungs and airways are underdeveloped.
  • Older adults, above 65 with undiagnosed heart or lung diseases.
  • Pregnant women and their developing fetuses.
  • People who smoke as they have reduced lung function.
  • People who have diabetes as they possess the risk of undetected cardiovascular disease.

How to Protect Yourself & Your Family from Smoke Inhalation

You can protect you and your family’s health by limiting exposure to smoke with these tips:

  • Stay updated with the latest reports about the local air quality and pay attention to news or health warnings for your area.
  • Avoid doing any physical activity outdoors if smoke is prevalent in the air.
  • Follow your doctor's advice on taking medicines and other health-related protocols.
  • Get in touch with your doctor if your symptoms worsen.
  • Remain indoors and switch on the air conditioner to maintain cleaner indoor air.
  • Use only high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter for appliances like AC and vacuum cleaners to decrease indoor air pollution.
  • Refrain from smoking and using food boilers, candles, incense, gas stoves, or fireplaces that can add to indoor air pollution.

More than a nuisance, smoke from California wildfires is a severe health hazard as it has an immediate and adverse impact on both the environment and your health. Contact your healthcare provider if you experience any severe symptoms arising out of wildfire smoke inhalation. You can also visit our urgent care facility near you in case you are facing symptoms that are non-life threatening but require immediate attention.



Gina Nguyen, MD

Dr. Nguyen is a medical director at Family Care Center Costa Mesa. She has implemented standards of care for underserved population and helped the clinic achieve NCQA (National Committee of Quality Assurance) Level 2 recognition and FQHC (Federally Qualified Health Care Center) status. Now, her focus is on providing the highest quality care to patients and improving lifestyle choices to reduce or eliminate health problems.

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