Canadian Lung Association Blog

Forest Fires and Lung Health


Forest fires are often a concern in Canada, especially during dry, hot summers. People all over Canada may be affected by the smoke from forest fires. The Canadian Lung Association urges those with lung disease such as asthma and COPD to monitor their breathing and avoid exposure to smoke. If breathing problems develop, refer to your action plan or call your health-care provider.

What type of health effects can be caused by forest fire smoke?

For someone without lung problems, wood smoke can:

  • irritate eyes, lungs, throat and sinuses
  • increase the risk of heart attacks
  • trigger headaches and allergies
  • reduce lung function, especially in children

For someone with lung disease, wood smoke can cause all of the above sooner and it can:

  • trigger asthma attacks
  • worsen COPD
  • worsen pneumonia

** Symptoms of worsening lung problems include increased cough, chest discomfort, wheeze and shortness of breath.

What can you do to prevent problems when there is wood smoke in the air?

General recommendations:

  • Remain indoors.
  • Keep doors, windows and fireplace dampers shut.
  • Use air conditioners on the recirculation setting so outside air will not be moved inside.
  • Refrain from exercising outdoors.
  • Take extra precaution with children, who are more susceptible to smoke because their breathing systems are still developing and they breathe in more air (and therefore more smoke) than adults.
  • Older adults are more likely to have heart or lung disease, which can make them more susceptible to smoke. Extra precaution should also be taken during forest fire season.
  • Keep your windows and vents closed while driving. Again, only use air conditioning in the “recirculate” setting.
  • Pay attention to air quality reports on the local news channel or websites.

Remember: dust masks will not protect your lungs from the fine particles in smoke.

If you have lung disease, you should:

  • Always keep your lung disease well-managed and under good control before forest fires can cause a problem.
  • Follow your action plan developed with your doctor. If you don’t have a written asthma action plan, print one and ask your doctor to fill it in.
  • Use your rescue medication if you need it.
  • Talk to your doctor ahead of the forest fire season to know what to do before there is a problem.
  • People using home oxygen should not make any changes to the oxygen – call your doctor if you have questions or concerns.
  • If breathing symptoms are not relieved by the usual medicines, seek medical attention. Symptoms to watch for include: increased wheeze, cough, shortness of breath, and chest heaviness.

If you live in an area that you might need to evacuate due to forest fires or wild fires, be prepared. Pack an emergency kit which includes extra medications. Learn more from the Government of Canada on how to prepare for a wildfire.

For more information please call our toll-free number 1-866-717-2673to speak with one of our certified respiratory educators:


American Lung Association. (July 2, 2008). Forest Fires and Respiratory Health Fact Sheet.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (July 2, 2008). How smoke from fires can affect your health.


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Posted in Air Quality, Asthma, COPD, Lung Health
2 comments on “Forest Fires and Lung Health
  1. Bill Lewin says:

    Residential Wood Smoke from Wood stoves is no different. Actually worse because it is a needless and selfesh way to heat and pollute entire neibourhoods

  2. Linda Baker Beaudin says:

    All forms of biomass burning have a negative impact on the air we breathe, our lung and overall health.

    Seeking shelter indoors gives the false impression that people are in a safe breathing zone when they are not since the fine smoke particles known as PM (2.5) can enter into any miniscule crevice inside the home or building, still exposing people to dangerous levels of toxic, cancer causing compounds such as those in woodsmoke.

    The back yard wood burning fire pit, cob oven, wood food smoker, wood fuelled BBQ, indoor wood burning stove, pellet stove, wood burning fireplace and OWB (outdoor wood boiler)destroy air quality and health safety of the public.

    Woodsmoke from any source is a Public Health hazard, a toxic trespass and a public and private nuisance.

    Eliminating/banning the use of all wood fueled devices in urban areas will save lives, just as tobacco smoking bans saved the lives of millions. Both Woodsmoke and cigarette smoke share many of the same known toxic chemicals.

    Both take your breath away, both cause suffering, cancer, lung disease and pre-mature death.

    Air Is Precious, protect it, don’t pollute it with Woodsmoke!

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