Wildfire Impact on Children and How to Treat/Prevent Breathing Issues
With the wildfires in California recently, there has been extremely poor air quality for everyone. But, what is the impact on children? Children are especially vulnerable to environmental hazards. They eat more food, drink more liquids, and breathe more air than adults on a pound for pound basis. Follow these suggestions and take these precautions to protect your children from just part of the devastation that fires bring.
With fires, there are a couple things to know about the initial exposure to the effects of fires:
- Smoke consists of very small organic particles, liquid droplets, and gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other volatile organic compounds, such as formaldehyde and acrolein. The actual content of smoke depends upon the fuel source.
- Health effects of smoke: Symptoms from smoke inhalation can include chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, respiratory tract and eye burning, chest pain, dizziness or lightheadedness, and other symptoms. Asthma symptoms may flare up. The risk of developing cancer from short-term exposures to smoke is vanishingly small.
To minimize the harmful effects of wildfire smoke:
- Stay indoors to minimize smoke exposure. Close all windows, doors, and any other openings. Put your air-conditioner on recirculate if possible and avoid activities that may add to indoor air contamination, such as cooking with a gas stove. High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters or other room air filtration systems that do not generate ozone are recommended.
- When in a car, keep windows and vents closed. Turn the air-conditioning to re-circulate.
- 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. If your children are in an area with bad air quality, take them to an indoor environment with cleaner air, rather than give them a mask.
- Outdoor activity should be minimized and athletic and physical education should be stopped until air quality improves.
- Evacuate the area if recommended by authorities.
- Children with chronic respiratory problems, such as asthma, are at increased risk for developing exacerbation of respiratory symptoms or disease. Children at increased respiratory risk should remain in a clean-air environment and be kept indoors until air quality improves. They should be monitored closely for signs or symptoms of harmful health effects. If they are showing adverse respiratory symptoms and their usual medications cannot bring them under control, they should be taken to a nearby medical facility, despite the risks of traveling.
Be sure to educate children about fire safety and how to prevent fires. As an added precaution, have an evacuation plan in place with your family and review it with your children frequently.
If you feel that smoke and air quality issues are affecting your child’s breathing, take them to an urgent care or emergency room as soon as possible.