Do’s and don’ts of breathing in wildfire smoke

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Many people are being affected by the wildfires in Southern and Northern California right now. And even if you haven’t had to evacuate or had your home damaged, you can probably still see and smell the smoke. 

That sort of air pollution is bad for the environment, the state’s overall climate goals, and your health. 

Breathing in wildfire smoke can cause a number of symptoms, and it can be especially harmful for pregnant women, children, and the elderly.

Dr. Zab Mosenifar, a lung specialist and the medical director of the Women’s Guild Lung Institute, shares what you should know when it comes to inhaling smoky air. 

What are the health effects of breathing in air near fires?

Inhaling wildfire smoke can lead to various symptoms: irritating the lungs, coughing, wheezing, irregular heartbeat, or phlegm. 

“When you smell [the fires], you have already started inhaling those particles. That’s why protective measures have to be taken when you’re outside,” says Dr. Mosenifar. 

Should people limit their time outside when air quality is poor?

Yes. Even if you cannot see the smoke, it can still be there and harmful. Children, pregnant women, the eldery, and people with lung or heart diseases should do their best to stay indoors. That goes for animals too.  Dogs can have an even stronger reaction to smoky air than humans.  

If you need to go outside, you should wear an N95 mask. If you do not have a mask, cover your face with a wet towel or handkerchief. 

How can we improve the air quality indoors?

Use an air filter. If you don’t have one, set an air conditioner to recirculate air (make sure the a/c filter is clean). 

When should people see a doctor?

If you are suffering from persistent coughing, wheezing, or you can’t catch your breath, consult your doctor. The same goes for pets. 



  • Zab Mosenifar - Cedars-Sinai lung specialist and medical director of the Women's Guild Lung Institute