Health Effects of Fine Particles and Smoke
Smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause serious health impacts. Many scientific studies have linked the breathing of fine particles to a series of significant problems, including:
Some people are more susceptible to smoke than others:
- Increase in respiratory symptoms like coughing and difficult or painful breathing;
- Aggravation of asthma, bronchitis, and other chronic lung diseases;
- Decrease in lung function;
- Aggravation of heart disease; and
- Increase in hospital admissions, emergency room visits, and premature death among sensitive populations.
Even healthy people may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to an elevated level of particles. Symptoms may include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing; phlegm; chest tightness; and shortness of breath.
The following links can provide additional information on smoke and health effects, including precautions you can take to limit your exposure, measures to protect yourself when particle levels are high, how to obtain information on air quality in your area, health effects research, and educational materials.
- Individuals with preexisting heart or lung disease;
- Older adults, possibly because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people; and
- Children, because their respiratory systems are still developing, they breathe in more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults, and they're more likely to be active outdoors.
Air Quality forecasts are provided by many state and local agencies, using EPA's Air Quality Index (AQI), a uniform index that provides general information to the public about air quality and associated health effects.