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Effects of Wildfires on Air Quality and Headaches

The Effects of Wildfires on Air Quality and Headaches

As we head into another hot dry month, with no signs of our monsoon season, or a drop of rain in sight, wildfires are becoming an increasingly common occurrence here in the Four Corners. These fires not only damage landscapes and manmade structures but can also affect air quality and lead to a host of health problems. Particularly respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems, and yes, headaches. So, let us dive into what smoke does to your body and your head specifically so you can be better prepared to prevent the pain and discomfort during the wildfire season.

Wildfires, Air Quality and Headaches

What, Exactly, is Wildfire Smoke?

Wildfire smoke consists not only of ash from trees and plants but other toxic particulate matter from plastics, adhesives, and other man-made combustibles that may be in the path of the fire. Due to their small size, these particles are small enough to be breathed into your lungs and passed on into your bloodstream. From the bloodstream, they are pumped to the heart and sent throughout the body, which, in turn, can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms.

What Health Problems Can Wildfire Smoke Cause?

Particulate matter is the primary pollutant related to wildland fire smoke. Coarse particles that are about 5 to 10 microns in diameter (PM10) can be inhaled, and deposit themselves in the upper respiratory system. However, finer particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5) can penetrate much deeper into the lungs. The effects of over-exposure to and breathing wildfire smoke can include: 

  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation 
  • Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, and nausea
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • New or increasing headaches
  • Aggravation of existing lung, heart, and circulatory conditions, including asthma and angina

Who is especially sensitive to smoke?

Inhaling smoke of any kind isn’t good for anyone. Healthy individuals may not suffer serious long-term effects although temporary minor irritation may result when particulate matter concentrations are elevated. But there are people who are more susceptible to the health problems that can occur from breathing smoke. Those who are most sensitive to exposure to particulate matter include:

  • People with lung diseases (asthma, COPD, bronchitis, or emphysema)
  • People suffering from respiratory infections (pneumonia, acute bronchitis, bronchiolitis, colds, flu, or COVID-19)
  • People with existing heart or circulatory problems (dysrhythmias, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, or angina.)
  • People with a prior history of heart attack or stroke.
  • Adults over the age of 65 or children under 18
  • People with diabetes 
  • Pregnant women 
  • Smokers

For sensitive individuals, smoke can aggravate lung disease leading to asthma attacks or acute bronchitis, and can also increase the susceptibility to respiratory and cardiovascular illness. 

Why Wildfire Smoke Can Cause Headaches

As we said above, the smoke from wildfires contains particulate matter that may be comprised of multiple toxins. The type and amount of particles and chemicals in smoke can vary depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available at the burn site, and the burn temperature but nearly all smoke contains carbon monoxide. When carbon monoxide is inhaled, it decreases the body’s oxygen supply. This is what can cause headaches during wildland fire events. Once exposure stops, symptoms from inhaling carbon monoxide or fine particles generally diminish but may last for a couple of days.

What Can I Do to Protect Myself and My Family From Wildfire Smoke?

Be mindful of the 5-3-1 visibility method for gauging air quality

5 – If landmarks that are more than 5 miles away can be seen clearly, the air quality is generally healthy. If visibility is less than 5 miles, air quality is unhealthy for anyone who may be sensitive to smoke. 

3 – If visibility is less than 3 miles, young children, adults older than 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma, or other respiratory illness should stay inside.

1 – If visibility is less than 1 mile, the air quality is unhealthy for everyone and everyone should stay inside.

Avoid physical exertion outdoors if smoke is in the air

Of course, exercise is very important for everyone’s health. But, when you exercise your air intake is increased, which means inhaling more pollution when the air quality is bad.

If you have asthma or other lung diseases

Make sure you follow your doctor’s directions about taking your medicines and follow your asthma management plan. 

Stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible

Keep windows and doors closed when air quality is poor. If you need to run air conditioning, set it to recirculate and close the fresh-air intake. Avoid vacuuming unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. 

Visit your local upper cervical chiropractor

Your nervous system is the master controller that regulates every other system in your body! Upper cervical care can keep your body running at optimal conditions to help you avoid health concerns like chronic headaches.

Make sure your body is draining properly

Always include some form of binder to help you get toxins out of your body to ensure that wildfire smoke toxins don’t hang around to cause extra health concerns.

Drainage vs. Detox Ad

In Parting

Particularly during wildfire season, always be aware of the air quality and how it affects your health. And, if you have concerns over headaches caused by air quality or wildfire smoke exposure, give us a call at 970.259.6803, visit our Durango office at 1800 E 3rd Ave #108, or click the link below to schedule a free consultation. Better health is just a click away and we would love to be a part of your wellness journey. 

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Notice of Disclaimer:
We are doctors of upper cervical chiropractic, but we are NOT necessarily YOUR doctors. All content and information on this website is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and reading or interacting with this site does not establish any form of patient-doctor relationship. Although we strive to provide accurate information, the information presented here is not intended as a substitute for any kind of professional advice and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a professional in your particular area of need before making medical decisions.