More about Wildfire Smoke Inhalation


More fire more smoke more smog. The air out there is a soup of particulate matter: pine trees, manzanita, oak, grasses releasing their silicates, cannabis farms going up in smoke, poison oak and ivy burning, plastics and other petroleum derivatives becoming airborne. Folks are coming in with a wide variety of symptom patterns based on their susceptibility. Two colleagues of mine have generously offered their expertise for me to share with you.

First, from Siota Belle, PhD: nutritionally, we should all be taking a boost of Vitamin A. Vitamin A helps keep the mucus lining of the lungs healthy enough to adequately expel the offending particulate matter.

Second, this article by Miranda Castro FSHom, CCH, was written when Florida and the southeastern states were plunged into wildfires:

Wildfires: When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes … and Nose and Lungs!
by Miranda Castro, FSHom, CCH

You heard about it on the news, or maybe you lived through it. In late spring, wildfires raged throughout drought-stricken areas of north Florida and southeast Georgia, burning thousands upon thousands of acres of natural landscapes, woodlands, and the Okefenokee swamp, and threatening or destroying some residential communities. Roads and highways were shut down and many people were forced to evacuate. Strong winds carried the smoke hundreds of miles away, thereby affecting millions more people.

By mid-May, the air had improved greatly in my area of north Florida after some much-needed rain. But visibility was still low in parts of Georgia, and a thick cloud of smoke traveled 250 miles to blanket Atlanta. The smell of burning wood hung in the air, people were complaining of watery, burning eyes, and some were having difficulty breathing.

It’s natural, but …

On average, wildfires burn about 4 million acres in the US annually. For many years, US government policy was to suppress all wildfires, but today it is accepted that wildfires are a part of the natural ecosystem. Controlled fires are often set to reduce undergrowth and make forest regeneration possible. Did you know, for example, that fire is essential to the survival of the Giant Sequoia in the forests of California?

Sometimes, however, wildfires get too close to residential communities, destroying homes and livelihoods, and even lives. I met a firefighter recently who said that if he could impress one thing on homeowners vulnerable to a wildfire because of their proximity to forests, for example, it would be to clear the trees and shrubs from around their houses.

As of this writing in late summer of 2007, the Midwest is experiencing wet conditions but Western states are battling a tremendous number of fires. A wildfire in Idaho has burned 70 square miles, caused 2000 homes to be evacuated, and is threatening the Sun Valley ski resort. You may have also heard news reports about the terrible fires raging in Greece where many lives have been lost. Any place with high heat and drought conditions is susceptible, with metropolitan areas feeling the effects of wildfires from smoke that can travel hundreds of miles from its source.

Common smoke-related symptoms

Smoke particles are irritating and can cause runny eyes and noses, sore or scratchy throats and eyes, inflamed sinuses, headaches, coughs, and difficulty breathing. Some people are more sensitive than others, especially the very young, the very old, and those with allergies or any kind of respiratory condition like asthma or emphysema.

Steps you can take

If you can smell smoke in your neighborhood and you are sensitive to it, the following suggestions may be helpful:
~ Limit your outdoor activities to those that are truly urgent.
~ Remain in your home and keep the doors and windows closed.
~ Run the air conditioner with re-circulated air from time to time, even if you don’t need to. Close the fresh air intake and make sure the filter is clean and changed more frequently than usual.
~ If you have to drive, keep your car windows closed, and run the air conditioning with the vent to the outside closed.
~ Irrigate your sinuses frequently with saline solution using a bulb syringe or netipot (found at drug or natural food stores). Nasal irrigation involves flooding the nasal cavity with a warm saline solution in order to clear out excess mucus and particulates (i.e., dust, smoke, or pollen particles), and moisturize the nasal cavity. Clinical trials have found it both safe and beneficial. The Mayo Clinic website (www.mayoclinic.com) has a couple of helpful instructional videos relating to the use of the bulb syringe. (Search for “nasal irrigation.”) For information and videos about using the netipot go to www.netipot.org and follow the links from the home page. The video ends with some yoga exercises!

~ Use an eyewash to rinse irritated eyes. You may be able to find an herbal eyewash at your local whole food store or you can make your own. Calendula (marigold), Hydrastis (goldenseal), Chamomile, and Euphrasia (eyebright) are all wonderfully soothing herbs for irritated eyes. Make an infusion by adding a handful of one or more of these herbs, fresh or dried, to a pint of freshly boiled distilled water. Cover and let it steep until cool, then strain it carefully until the infusion is quite clear.
~ If you do spend time outdoors and are affected, change your clothes as soon as you get inside and take a quick shower or wash exposed parts (especially head, hair, face, and hands) with running water.
~ Do not add indoor smoke: don’t burn any candles or fires. Vacuuming stirs up particles inside your home so consider holding off on vacuuming until the fires are over. Remove all air fresheners (for good).
~ Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Commonly found at hardware stores, these masks are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust and will not protect your lungs from smoke. A wet dishcloth or tea towel over your nose and mouth is more beneficial.
~ If you don’t have an air conditioner or are particularly sensitive to smoke, consider spending time in public areas such as a shopping mall, movie theater, or library.

~ Keep your cats indoors.

~ Hose down dogs with a hand-held shower after a walk, or brush them down with a damp cloth.

~ Make sure you get some exercise if you are stuck indoors … run up and down the stairs or do 50-100 circuits of your house (to your favorite radio program or music)–or go to the mall for a walk once a day.

Homeopathic remedies to consider
During the spring wildfires in Florida, many people found relief from smoke inhalation symptoms by turning to one of the remedies below. If one of these remedies happens to be a good constitutional remedy for you, your loved ones, or your pets, then you may be more likely to need it during a “smoke attack” because of your susceptibility and the remedy’s ability to help this kind of problem.

Depending on your symptoms, one of the following homeopathic remedies may prove useful.

Arsenicum: For smoke exposure with anxiety.
~ Eyes burn and stream.
~ Nose burns and streams.

~ Cough is dry and worse at night.

~ Tremendous anxiety especially about what is going to happen–and restlessness.
Euphrasia: For simple smoke exposure with irritation to eyes and possibly nose and no other symptoms.
~ Eyes stream and burn–lids are red, swollen, and sensitive.
~ Nose streams but doesn’t burn.
~ There may be a little daytime cough. The eyes stream on coughing.

Kali bichromicum:  For more serious smoke exposure with irritated sinuses and/or lungs.
~ Nose is blocked–nasal discharge is dry or comes out in sticky or stringy “plugs.”
~ Sinuses are sore, raw, irritated, and painful.

~ Cough is painful, and chest is sore.

~ Mucus coughed up with difficulty and is scanty, sticky, or stringy.

Natrum arsenicosum: Great sensitivity to smoke. Useful when the indicated remedies haven’t helped much or at all.
~ Eyes dry and painful. They stream and smart on going out into the smoky air.
~ Sinuses feel blocked and are painful.
~ Racking cough. Lungs feel full of smoke.
~ Headache from the smoke.
Silica: To help the body eject inhaled particles.
~ Nose dry and blocked–no sense of smell or taste.
~ Sinuses stuffed up and painful.
~ Dry, irritating cough from inhaled particles. With lumpy, yellow mucus.

~ There’s a strange feeling of something (a hair or dust) stuck at the back of the tongue.

Taking remedies

Take 6c, 12c, or 30c (whatever potency you have on hand is always the best potency), three times a day, stopping on improvement and repeating as needed (i.e., if your symptoms return). If you’ve taken a remedy for two days and had no response, select a different remedy or call your homeopath.

Important

If you are under constitutional homeopathic treatment, then please check with your homeopath before taking one of these remedies to make sure it is the right remedy for you and that it has a good relationship with your constitutional remedy (i.e., it won’t inadvertently “counteract” your remedy/stop it from working).

Safe wishes

Of course I hope you are safe and out of the path of fires and smoke, and that you don’t need this information. You never know, though, when you or someone you know may be affected by the smoke from a wildfire (smoke travels long distances) or from any other type of fire. Unfortunately, a fire and attendant smoke inhalation can happen anywhere, so you might want to tuck this information away in a safe place, just in case.

Keeping Track of Wildfires

To stay current on wildfires around the country, check the website of the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which coordinates eight major government agencies involved in fighting and monitoring wildfires: www.nifc.gov

Be Prepared!

Natural disasters like wildfires, floods, and hurricanes are wake-up calls for us to be prepared. If you were told you had a short time to evacuate your home, what would you take with you?

Having lived through numerous hurricane seasons in South Florida and chosen to evacuate several times, I can now answer this question. Being prepared is definitely preferable to packing in a panic.

I have created two lists: one for if I am going to be away from home temporarily and another for if I am unlikely to be able to return to my home. I have important papers (house deeds, passports, certificates, insurance papers, etc.) in a small filing box that I can pick up and pack, along with a few irreplaceable photos, and, of course, my largest homeopathic kit and first-aid book. Having a system in place is reassuring. In the event of a real emergency, it can save hours of hassle and worry–and important things left behind.

Miranda Castro FSHom, CCH, is a British homeopath and author of The Complete Homeopathy Handbook; Homeopathy for Pregnancy, Birth and Your Baby’s First Years; and A Homeopathic Guide to Stress. She believes passionately that homeopathy is “medicine for the people,” and her books make classical homeopathy spectacularly accessible to the home prescriber. She currently lives, practices and teaches in Gainesville, Florida. Her website is www.mirandacastro.com

Be sure to see my other article on Help for Smoke Inhalation for more tips on coughs from smoke inhalation.  If you are a patient of mine, give me a call if you are having problems; often homeopathic Histaminum will give some temporary help for allergic type reactions to the smoke, and not interfere with your deep acting constitutional remedy.

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Reader Comments

I’m so glad I was able to find this article. I’ve been looking everywhere for this information. It’s September 2012 now & this article is several years old, but I’m glad it’s still here. I live in Montana where wildfires are burning with a vengeance. My neighbors have been evacuated & there seems to be no end in sight. No sign of rain for the foreseeable future & they say the smoke is creating its own environment. The air quality is rated as hazardous, which is as bad as it can get. The schools are keeping the children indoors & sports are cancelled. Everyone is advised to stay indoors. People are getting sick & can’t tell if they are catching a cold or if it’s from the smoke. Large chunks of ash cover the town. People have started driving around wearing dust masks. I can’t but laugh when I see it & think how ridiculous they look. I started thinking maybe they are on to something until I read this. A damp cloth does make much more sense to me.