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Public Health Emergency: Wildfires in the Western U.S. Cause Dangerous Air Pollution for People With Asthma

 

Record-setting wildfires continue to rage across the western United States, putting millions of people with asthma at risk. The smoke and ash from the fires are polluting the air, creating unhealthy – even hazardous – air quality. This is a serious health emergency.

What Do People With Asthma Need to Know About the Current Wildfires and Air Quality?

The EPA’s AirNow.gov program measures and reports the air quality across the United States. Air quality is measured by the number of small particles and harmful gases in the air. AirNow uses a color-coded chart to report the air quality. This is called the air quality index (AQI). AirNow also offers a fire map available at fire.AirNow.gov.

AQI_table

This color-coded AQI chart from AirNow can help you understand the AQI in your area. AirNow will report AQI each day with a color so you know if the air is unhealthy and how it can affect you.


The air quality in most of California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington currently ranges from “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” to “Hazardous,” according to the AirNow AQI.  Even if wildfires aren’t near you, smoke from wildfires can travel hundreds or thousands of miles and impact your local air quality.

Poor air quality can worsen asthma symptoms. It’s important for people with asthma to be familiar with the AQI and local reports. Keeping your asthma under control as much as possible is critical.

Wildfires-AQI-West

AirNow tracks and reports air quality data across the U.S. Because of wildfires in the western U.S., air quality has reached hazardous levels in some places.


How Can You Prevent or Manage Asthma Symptoms During Wildfires and Poor Air Quality?

Track the AQI in your area. You can get current readings on AirNow.gov, weather sites and smartphone apps, and from local news reports.

Keep your asthma under control as much as possible. Ask your allergist how you can prevent symptoms. They may have you increase your medicines and decrease outdoor physical activities while the AQI is high. Follow your Asthma Action Plan if you start to have symptoms. Know your asthma early warning signs and symptoms, as well as signs you need emergency asthma treatment.

Work and exercise inside while the AQI is high. Physical activity like exercise causes you to breathe faster and deeper, which pulls more polluted air deeply into your lungs. People who work outside are at risk of serious health effects from high levels of air pollution. If you must spend time outside, it is best to wear an N95-rated mask. Cloth masks and face coverings you wear to prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 do not provide enough protection from wildfire air pollution. But supplies are limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For short trips outside, double or triple up your cloth masks or face coverings. Cover both your mouth and your nose and protect your eyes.

Improve your indoor air quality. Since you will be spending more time indoors, it’s equally as important to make sure your indoor air quality is good. The polluted outdoor air can enter your home and get trapped there. Here are some ways you can improve your indoor air:

  • Prevent outdoor air from coming inside your home. Keep your windows and doors closed when air quality is poor. If you have an HVAC system, turn off the fresh intake system and recirculate the indoor air. Check that the air filter is firmly in place. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning or replacing the air filters. When selecting air filters, look for a MERV rating of 13 or above. Consider using CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® air filters. These filters have been independently tested and confirmed to remove air pollution and other asthma triggers.

  • Run a CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly®air cleaner in a room in your home. Place the air cleaner in the room(s) you spend the most time. Replace or clean the air cleaner’s filters according to instructions.

  • Avoid using heavily scented products. Cleaners, candles, potpourri and other fragranced products can worsen your indoor air quality and make your indoor air polluted.

  • Use your kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans. A stove/oven hood with a fan can remove air pollution created by cooking. Bathroom fans are important to help remove moisture and prevent mold growth.



It is important to stay up-to-date on news about asthma and allergies. By joining our community and following our blog, you will receive tips about managing your health. Our community also provides an opportunity to connect with other patients who manage these conditions for support.

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