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Guard Yourself Against the Health Dangers of Wildfire Smoke

MONDAY, Sept. 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- As the smoke left by wildfires in California and Oregon continues to linger, people exposed to it need to take steps to protect themselves, an expert says.

In healthy people, wildfire smoke can cause symptoms such as runny nose, burning and watery eyes, sore throat, chest pain and shortness of breath, said Dr. Reza Ronaghi, a pulmonologist at University of California, Los Angeles' David Geffen School of Medicine.

In elderly people or those with chronic lung conditions, the smoke can aggravate an underlying condition and cause worsening of symptoms such as cough or shortness of breath. This can sometimes result in hospitalization.

People who develop any of the above symptoms after exposure to wildfire smoke should seek medical care, Ronaghi advised in a university news release.

To prevent health problems, avoid exposure to wildfire smoke.

Stay indoors and listen to local authorities when they share information about air quality and whether it's safe to go outside, Ronaghi said.

Don't vacuum. That stirs up particles already inside your home. Don't allow anyone to smoke inside your home. Make sure all doors and windows are closed, and that there are no cracks or openings to the outside.

If you have to go outside, be aware that face masks won't prevent the tiny particles in the smoke from entering your lungs. Use N95-quality masks that cover the nose and mouth and are fitted and sealed against the cheeks.

If officials tell you to evacuate your home, do so. If your child's school is canceled, it's done to keep students safe from potentially poor air quality or a potential evacuation. If you are in a voluntary evacuation area, you're likely downwind from a fire and in an area with poor air quality. You should evacuate or stay indoors.

To determine when it's safe to resume normal activity, check local air quality reports and news coverage, Ronaghi said.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on wildfire smoke.

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