According to WebMD Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Whyte, being outside in New York City, Philadelphia and the Washington, D.C. area for 15 minutes right now is equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes.
"If you never smoked and all of a sudden you're doing half the pack, you're going to feel that," Whyte said.
From itchy eyes to shortness of breath to complicating pre-existing conditions, such as asthma and emphysema, a number of symptoms may come from particulates in wildfire smoke. The particulates can lodge into your airways and cause chronic inflammation and chronic shortness of breath, said Dr. Sampson Davis, CareWell emergency medicine physician.
"So for those who are compromised already, this may precipitate matters for them even further," Davis noted.
While all Americans should remain vigilant about the harmful effects of wildfire smoke, some populations are more vulnerable than others.
Children face increased risk as their airways are so small that the particulates in wildfire smoke can make a significant impact on them, according to Whyte. Additionally, Davis said pregnant women may experience more challenges as they are also caring for the child inside them.
Older populations are also more vulnerable, as many of them have compromised immune systems that the poor air quality may worsen.
To shield yourself from the dangers of wildfire smoke, Davis recommends wearing some sort of protection. He noted that, while items such as a scarf or towel are better to use than nothing, a better option is an N95 mask, as N95 masks filter 95 percent of particulates and pollutants in the air.
Another way to protect yourself is to limit your exposure to the outdoors during unhealthy and hazardous air quality conditions. If you do have to venture outdoors, Davis advises listening to your body and making the call to return indoors when you begin to feel unwell.
Protection is also critical while in your home and vehicle. Whyte recommends keeping windows in your home closed to keep out the smoky air. When using air conditioning in your vehicle, he advises recirculating air inside the vehicle rather than bringing in air from the outside.
As many Americans are focused on their health and that of their family, Whyte reminds people not to forget their furry family members. Pets can also experience the harmful effects of unhealthy and hazardous air quality, so he advises keeping walks with them brief and foregoing outdoor exercise for a day or two.