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Minimizing Health Effects of Wildfires

During a wildfire, the biggest health risks to children are fire and smoke. Health effects can include any or all of the following symptoms, per the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Burning or stinging of the nose, throat and eyes
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
How can parents protect kids from the harmful health effects of fire and smoke?
  • Evacuate the area if recommended by authorities.
  • Stay indoors and minimize smoke exposure. Close all windows and doors.
  • When driving, keep windows and vents closed. Turn the air-conditioning to re-circulate.
  • Avoid sports practices, games or extreme exertion if the air quality is poor.
  • Do NOT give your child a mask to filter contaminants, since masks do not work when not fitted correctly. Smaller sized masks may appear to fit a child’s face, but no manufacturers recommend their use for children.
  • Increase water intake to avoid dehydration, which can happen quicker when breathing is compromised.
  • Continue to minimize exposure to other sources of air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, smoke from wood or coal-burning furnaces, or smoke from a barbecue, as the combined effect of these smoke sources can have a greater impact on your child and family than the fire alone.
  • Children with chronic respiratory problems, such as asthma, are at increased risk. Children at increased risk should remain in a clean-air environment, and be kept indoors until air quality improves. Administer any protective medications to your child as directed by your provider. They should be monitored closely for signs or symptoms of harmful health effects. If they are showing these symptoms and their usual medications cannot bring them under control, they should be taken to a nearby medical facility, despite the risks of traveling.

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Parents should be mindful of the signs and symptoms of respiratory distress, says Dr. Charles Golden, executive medical director of the CHOC Children’s Primary Care Network.

What are the warning signs of respiratory distress?
  • Rapid breathing
  • Use of accessory muscles (the muscles in the chest, rib cage and neck) become noticeable with each breath
  • Fatigue, lack of energy, and increase in sleepiness in addition to the above symptoms
  • Flaring of the nostrils or grunting with each breath
  • Bluish/purplish discoloration of the lips, tongue and inner mouth in combination with the above symptoms

If your child has these symptoms, seek urgent medical attention despite the risks of travel and outdoor air exposure. If these symptoms are severe, call 911.

 

 

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