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Breathe Easy: The Dangers of Wildfire Smoke posted on 07/27/2023
By Amber Ford
The Mountain Times

As fires rage across the Pacific Northwest, Oregonians are in a constant battle with air quality during summer months. Fortunately, Mt. Hood Villages have seen very little lingering smoke considering the wildfires that burn nearby. For many residents of the Mt. Hood area, the current and nearby fires are a stark reminder of how dangerous air quality can be, as experienced in September of 2020.
The American Lung Association explains that wildfire smoke can negatively affect anybody, especially those in the direct region of the fire. The elderly, children, individuals suffering from asthma, COPD, bronchitis, chronic heart disease and diabetes are at a higher risk of becoming ill and experiencing lasting side effects.
According to local resident and doctor Douglas Lyon, the lasting effects of wildfire smoke can become a health concern. “Similar to cigarette smoke, smoke from wildfires itself is exhaled with each respiration. Particulate matter and inflammation will remain depending on continued exposure and how healthy one’s lungs are in terms of their own capacity to clear particulates,” Lyon said.
While inhaling smoke of any kind is a known danger to the lungs, wildfire smoke has singular notorious dangers when exposure lingers over a long period of time.“It [wildfire smoke] can cause short and long term damage to the lungs from deposition of particulate matter, carcinogens and inflammation. In those that are fragile with chronic lung disease or asthma it can tip them into a respiratory crisis. It can make it harder for the lungs to ward off viral and bacterial infections,” Lyon said.
While coughing, sneezing and watery eyes are all prominent signs of inhaling wildfire smoke, Lyon also explains that other symptoms may also suggest an overexposure. “You will notice a change in your breathing  --  a shortness of breath or wheezing or an inability to lay flat while you sleep,” Lyon said. Lingering negative health effects are atypical for individuals who are able to remove themselves from danger zones, but Lyon also suggests that prolonged exposure to smoke does have the potential to lead to much more dangerous medical situations. “If you are in a vulnerable group, exposure to wildfire smoke can cause an exacerbation of underlying lung or heart disease. Exposure can also lead to inflammation and deposition of fine particulate matter in the lungs. In the worst case scenario, exposure to wildfire smoke can result in the hospitalization or even death of someone with chronic lung or heart disease,” Lyon said.
Clear skies and fresh air may be the current scenario in Mt. Hood Villages, but as summer progresses and the evergreen forests continue to dry, a shift in the air quality could be in the forecast. In preparation for these potential changes, Lyon does have some advice on how to best protect yourself from the negative side effects of wildfire smoke. “If at all possible, if you can avoid exposure by spending time somewhere else – much like leaving a room where people are smoking. If you are not able to leave the area, try to avoid time outdoors where air is ‘unfiltered.’ If you are indoors and you have central ducted heating/cooling, you should look into running the system solely for ‘filtering’ the air,” Lyon said.
As with any natural disaster, keeping up to date on wildfires nearby is always an important factor when determining air quality. Local weather stations, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Mt. Hood Forest Service are all sources available to the public for up-to-date information on wildfires near Mt. Hood National Forest.
For more information on how to best protect yourself and family from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke, please visit https://www.epa.gov/wildfire-smoke-course/health-effects-attributed-wildfire-smoke.



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