Wildfire Season Advisory for Healthcare Providers

Recommendations & Resources for Wildfire Season

Posted July 12, 2019. Past health advisories and alerts are archived for historical purposes and are not maintained or updated.

Wildfire season is fast approaching. Smoke from wildfires impacts local air quality and can cause health effects, especially for individuals with pre-existing health conditions and others who are especially sensitive to smoke pollution. Every year there are preventable hospitalizations and unanticipated deaths attributed to wildfire smoke exposure. By preparing ahead of time, we can minimize exposure to smoke.

What is in wildfire smoke?

  • Smoke is a complex mixture of carbon dioxide, water vapor, carbon monoxide, particles, hydrocarbons and other organic chemicals, nitrogen oxides, and trace minerals.
  • Fine particles (PM2.5) are the principle pollutant of concern from wildfire smoke for short-term exposures (hours to weeks).

What are some of the health effects of wildfire smoke?

  • Fine particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs; exposure to the smallest particles can affect the lungs and heart.
  • Fine particles are respiratory irritants and exposure to high concentrations can cause persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
  • Exposure to fine particles can also affect healthy people, causing respiratory symptoms and reductions in lung function. Particulate matter pollution may also affect the body's ability to remove foreign materials from the lungs, such as pollen and bacteria.
  • Studies have found that short-term exposure (i.e., days to weeks) to particulate matter, a major component of smoke, is linked with aggravation of pre-existing heart and lung disease. 

The following resources are provided to assist in preparing your patients ahead of time to minimize their exposure to wildfire smoke, minimize symptoms in the event of exposure, and ensure patients have a plan if severe symptoms develop:

Educate patients about limiting outdoor activities when air quality is poor, providing alternatives that are in a safe and healthy environment.

Educate patients about managing physical and psychological symptoms from smoke impact.

Identify patients with pre-existing conditions and ensure a medical response plan is in place.

Educate patients to take steps to improve indoor air quality.

Educate patients to use their best judgement on respiratory protection.

Additional resources

Know your local outdoor clean air authority and public health contacts before wildfire season.
Spokane Regional Health District
Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency
509) 477-4727

These recommendations and resources were compiled by the Wildfire Smoke Impacts Advisory Group. This is a work group consisting of local and state agencies with the intent of distributing consistent health messaging throughout Washington.