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How Wildfires Affect Public Health

Armen Hareyan's picture

Many county health departments are getting questions from their residents who have been affected by the smoke from the wildfire burning in Eastern North Carolina. The accompanying information has been provided to the local health departments by the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response and is being provided to the media to help facilitate dissemination of the information to the public. Thank you for assisting us in that effort.

Q: What is the health threat from wildfire smoke?

A: Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can irritate your eyes or your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. How much and how long you are exposed to the smoke, as well as your age and degree of susceptibility play a role in determining whether or not someone will experience smoke-related health problems. If you are experiencing serious medical problems for any reason, seek medical treatment immediately.

Q: How can I tell if the smoke is affecting my family or me?

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* Smoke can cause coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes and runny nose.

* If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.

* People who have heart disease might experience chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath and fatigue.

* Smoke may worsen symptoms for people who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in the following ways: