Helping Clients with Asthma Prepare for Wildfire Smoke Events

As everyone in California braces for what we anticipate being an extreme wildfire season, we are pleased to share with you a new tool, Helping Clients with Asthma Prepare for Wildfire Smoke Events: Tips for Asthma Educators.

Wildfire smoke – a complex mixture of air pollutants – is unhealthy to breathe and can be especially dangerous for people with asthma. Fortunately, Asthma educators can help families prepare for wildfire smoke events. Below are several steps educators can take; additional ideas and resources are in the tool.

Help your clients manage their asthma.

  • If they are experiencing symptoms, have your clients contact their physician. If they cannot, urge them to follow their asthma action plan and to seek medical care if symptoms are not relieved.

Help your clients create clean indoor spaces in their homes.

  • During wildfire smoke events, counsel your clients to keep doors and windows closed, and avoid activities that create more indoor pollution, such as frying foods, sweeping, vacuuming, and using gas-powered appliances. 
  • Provide your clients with portable HEPA air filtration units certified by the CA Air Resources Board and replacement filters, if possible. If your program isn’t able to purchase them, provide clients with information about purchasing an air filtration unit or creating a do-it-yourself box fan filtration unit
  • If your clients have a central ducted air conditioning and heating system, tell them to set the system to “on” rather than “auto,” so that air is being filtered constantly, and to run it on recirculation mode to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. Encourage them to install a high-efficiency filter (MERV 13 rating or higher), if possible.

Help your clients decrease exposure to wildfire smoke if they must be outside.

  • Encourage your clients to track the Air Quality Index (AQI) in their local area through AirNOW. An AQI level greater than 100 is ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’ and greater than 150 is ‘Unhealthy’ for all people.
  • If your clients must be outside during unhealthy conditions, encourage them to wear an N-95 mask that can filter out damaging fine particles. Cloth face coverings (like those for COVID) do not reliably filter out small smoke particles. 
  • Remind your clients that they shouldn’t participate in extra outdoor activities (like playing sports) whether or not they are wearing a mask. Masks can help people breathe less smoke, but they still breathe some smoke, especially if they are being active. They may want to look at guidelines for school activities, which could serve as a good reference when making decisions about personal activities outside.

Encourage your clients to stay safe in extreme heat.

  • If they don’t have an air conditioner, or they lose power, staying inside with the windows closed may be dangerous in extremely hot weather. In these cases, they should seek alternative shelter such as a community cooling center.

In addition to these tips, the tool includes links to numerous resources for patient education and for asthma educators. We extend appreciation to colleagues at the US EPA, American Lung Association, and the Western States Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit for their resources, tips and insights as we developed this tool.

RAMP staff