Smoke Danger From California Wildfires
Health Hazards From Smoke Particularly Affect Young, Old, Those With Lung Conditions
WebMD News Archive
Oct. 24, 2007 (Burbank, Calif.) -- Skies in Southern California have an
eerie, dirty look as smoke spews from the numerous wildfires that began raging
Sunday and may still be days from containment.
Where there is smoke, there are health hazards, experts warn, perhaps even
for healthy residents living miles from the fire zones.
"Even as far away as 20 miles, you can see some unhealthy effects of the
fire damage," says Zab Mosenifar, MD, a pulmonologist and director of the
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Women's Guild Pulmonary Disease Institute in Los
Angeles. A Malibu resident, Mosenifar awoke Tuesday morning to find his yard
and family cars covered in ash as the fire continued to blaze not far from his
Residents in fire zones and nearby areas are urged to take
precautions, pay attention to symptoms that may be related to smoke exposure,
and check the air quality in their immediate vicinity before spending any time
outdoors, especially when exercising, Mosenifar and other experts tell
Particle Size Determines Risk
Smoke from wildfires includes small particles of ash and other substances,
water vapor, and gases such as carbon monoxide. The sizes of these particles
affect the body differently, Mosenifar tells WebMD. Larger particles generally
can't get into the nose and upper respiratory tract, he says, although they
might irritate the eyes, outside of the nose, mouth, and skin.
But smaller particles -- those so tiny they are about 30 times smaller than
the diameter of a human hair --can easily get into your respiratory system, he
says. And there they can cause irritation in the lungs, runny noses, burning
eyes, and aggravate existing heart and lung problems such as emphysema, asthma,
and congestive heart failure.
While the bigger, heavier particles drop to the earth as the smoke billows
out from the fire, the smaller particles can travel some distances, he says,
depending on winds, temperatures, and other factors. "If you live 15
or 20 miles from a fire, you are still exposed to particles, but the particle
size is smaller," he says.