DETROIT (WXYZ) — Wildfire smoke contains super tiny particles called PM2.5. PM2.5 are roughly 30 times smaller than one strand of human hair. That means the human eye can’t see them. So if they’re in the air around us, we’re unknowingly breathing them in.
They travel down the throat and can end up penetrating deep into the lungs. So how can they affect our health? Well, short-term health effects include coughing, sneezing, and irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Also, air pollution from wildfire smoke can cause irritation and an inflammatory reaction in the lungs, as well as shortness of breath.
Depending on how long a person is exposed, impaired lung function could last long after the wildfires have been extinguished. Plus, smoke exposure can directly affect your immune system, making you more prone to infections – that includes COVID-19. On top of that, some studies have found a link between poor air quality and heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.
Anyone can be affected by high PM2.5 particles, including healthy people. However, those most vulnerable are young children, seniors, pregnant women, and people who are immunocompromised. Also, if you have respiratory-related health conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart disease, you should be extra careful. If you’re not, you could end up with worsening symptoms or conditions.
So how can you protect yourself from harmful air quality? Here's my advice:
- Stay inside as much as you can when the air reaches unhealthy levels
- Be sure to keep your doors and windows closed to get out polluted air
- If you have an air purifier, make sure it’s running
- Also, avoid cutting the lawn and outdoor exercise
- And if you have to be outside, consider wearing a mask to reduce your exposure
If you find yourself having chest pain, wheezing, or trouble breathing, be sure to seek medical attention. The bad news is that we’re entering wildfire season, so I expect more days with unhealthy air. But we just need to keep an eye on the fluctuating air quality levels over the summer and take precautions to stay safe.
To see the current air quality in your area, visit airnow.gov.