Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Health effects of wood smoke
Smoke may smell good, but it's not good for you. If you are healthy, you are not usually at major risk from smoke. Still, it's a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if you can help it.
Smoke is made up of 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 (also called particulate matter or PM).
These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases—and are linked to premature deaths in people with these chronic conditions.
Some people are more susceptible than others:
If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma, you may experience health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels than healthy people.
Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have chronic heart or lung diseases than younger people.
Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they're more likely to be active outdoors.
How to tell if smoke is affecting you: Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, stinging eyes, or a runny nose. If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse.
Protect yourself! It's important to limit your exposure to smoke—especially if you may be susceptible. Follow the guidelines we have provided in this Web site for using your wood stove and fireplace efficiently and safely.
For additional information on the health effects of wood smoke, visit http://www.airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=smoke.smoke2
Also, the State of Washington's Department of Ecology has published a useful booklet entitled, Health Effects of Wood Smoke (PDF)