When air quality is poor take these steps to avoid or reduce smoke exposure:
- Check the air quality forecast. Air quality conditions may change quickly. Visit airnow.gov and fire.airnow.gov to stay aware of current and predicted local air quality conditions.
- Stay indoors when possible. Close windows and doors and use HVAC systems to minimize exposure to wildfire smoke.
- Use a portable air cleaner or create a cleaner air room.
- Keep indoor air clean. Prevent further indoor air pollution by not smoking or using candles, gas, or aerosol sprays; not frying or broiling meat; and not vacuuming.
Select and use a N95 respirator when it is not possible to avoid exposure to wildfire smoke.
Follow the advice of your doctor or other health care provider about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your doctor for advice if your symptoms worsen.
Prepare for wildfire season today. Review the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Smoke-Ready Toolbox.
Page last reviewed: June 30, 2023
For the General Public:
Climate change is increasing the frequency of wildfires in California. Wildfires produce high volumes of smoke, leading to unhealthy air quality levels. Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees, plants, buildings, and other material. Wildfire smoke can affect people even if they are not near the fire source, due to exposure to particles. Individuals especially at risk after exposure to wildfire smoke include people with asthma, COPD, or cardiovascular disease (e.g., ischemic heart disease, congestive heart failure). Children, older adults, or those who are pregnant are also especially at risk for severe outcomes.
Please be aware that with shifting winds and poor wildfire containment air quality can change drastically in a short period of time.
Smoke from wildfires can affect health. The most common symptoms are eye and throat irritation, coughing, and difficulty breathing. Those with health problems, especially heart or respiratory conditions, should take extra caution. Follow these precautions to protect your health:
- Minimize outdoor activities.
- Stay indoors with windows and doors closed as much as possible.
- Do not run fans that bring smoky outdoor air inside.
- Run your air-conditioner only if it does not bring smoke in from the outdoors.
- Consider leaving the area until smoke conditions improve if you experience symptoms related to smoke exposure.
For Outdoor Workers:
- Limit exertion;
- Take frequent breaks;
- Consult with your employer if you have specific concerns.
When to Seek Medical Attention:
Contact your health care provider if you experience the following symptoms that do not improve after moving indoors or into a safe air quality environment:
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness or pain
- Nausea or unusual fatigue
- Lightheadedness and/or feeling faint
As always, if you or someone you know is experiencing an emergency, call 9-1-1.
For Health Care Providers:
Healthcare professionals seeing patients affected by wildfire smoke should be alert to the possible adverse effects of smoke exposure, particularly among individuals at higher risk of severe outcomes. The acute signs and symptoms of smoke exposure can include headache, eye and mucous membrane irritation, dyspnea (trouble breathing), cough, wheezing, chest pain, palpitations, and fatigue. Wildfire smoke exposure may exacerbate respiratory, metabolic, and cardiovascular chronic conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and congestive heart failure.
Appropriate and prompt treatment is crucial to reduce morbidity from wildfire smoke exposure. Counseling patients on protective measures, including being aware of current and predicted air quality levels, staying indoors, using air filtration, and using properly fitted N95 respirators when outdoors is also important for mitigating adverse effects.