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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Monitor Air Quality

When wildfires are in your area, be aware of air quality and take steps to protect yourself and your family.

  • Wildfire smoke can harm you in many different ways.  Wildfire smoke can cause a wide range of reactions in anybody – from coughing to having trouble breathing normally.  Older adults, pregnant women, children and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions are more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke.  If you have a chronic condition or are on medicine for a respiratory issue, be sure to follow your doctor’s advice.
  • Keep indoor air as clean as possible if you are advised to stay indoors. Keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you don’t have an air conditioner and it’s too warm to stay inside with the windows close, seek shelter in a designated evacuation center or away from the affected area.  Use an air filter and don’t burn anything inside the home, including tobacco products.
  • Check local air quality reports. Listen and watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Find out if your community provides reports about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index (AQI). In addition, pay attention to public health messages about taking safety precautions, such as evacuation or sheltering in place. If they are available in your area, use visibility reports.
  • Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. If you decide to keep a mask on hand, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

  • This page last reviewed: October 16, 2017