The Health Risks of Wildfires: Managing Asthma, Chronic Conditions, Burns, and Trauma

Respirologist breaks down the health risks caused by breathing in wildfire smoke

In recent years, the world has witnessed a surge in the frequency and intensity of wildfires, sparking concerns about their impact on human health. Beyond the immediate threat of flames, smoke, and burns, wildfires pose a range of health risks that extend to vulnerable populations, including individuals with asthma, chronic health issues, and burns. Moreover, the psychological toll of witnessing and experiencing such natural disasters cannot be overlooked. In this article, we delve into the multifaceted health risks posed by wildfires and explore effective strategies for management and recovery.

Health Risks for Vulnerable Populations

Asthma Patients: Wildfires release a cocktail of pollutants, including fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), that can exacerbate respiratory conditions like asthma. Exposure to these pollutants can lead to increased symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. Asthma patients should closely monitor air quality levels and adhere to prescribed medications. Creating a clean indoor environment by using air purifiers and sealing gaps can provide relief from external pollutants.

Chronic Health Issues: Individuals with chronic health conditions like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are also at heightened risk during wildfires. The smoke's impact on the cardiovascular system and the potential for increased inflammation can lead to heart attacks and exacerbation of existing conditions. It's crucial for these patients to maintain their treatment plans, stay indoors, and consult healthcare providers for guidance during wildfire events.

Burns and Trauma: Wildfires can result in burns ranging from minor to severe, causing immense physical and emotional trauma. Proper first aid for burns, including cooling the affected area and covering it with a clean, dry cloth, can prevent infection. Psychologically, burns victims require specialized support to cope with emotional distress and scarring. Psychologists emphasize the importance of early intervention, counseling, and support groups to address trauma and promote recovery.

Management and Prevention

Stay Informed: Keeping tabs on local air quality reports and evacuation orders is paramount during wildfire events. Various apps and websites provide real-time air quality data, helping individuals make informed decisions about outdoor activities.

Create a Safe Haven: Designate a clean and smoke-free room within your home where individuals with asthma or chronic conditions can retreat during periods of poor air quality. Using high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters can significantly improve indoor air quality.

Medication Adherence: People with pre-existing health conditions should continue taking prescribed medications as directed, even during emergencies. Stocking up on necessary medications and supplies ensures they're readily available if evacuation becomes necessary.

Burn Care and Psychological Support: For those affected by burns, proper wound care and seeking medical attention are essential. Psychologists stress the value of professional counseling and peer support groups to address the psychological aftermath of wildfires.


Wildfires go beyond the immediate threat of flames, impacting the health of vulnerable individuals and leaving lasting emotional scars. As these natural disasters become more frequent, understanding the health risks associated with wildfires and implementing proactive management strategies becomes crucial. By staying informed, creating safe indoor spaces, adhering to treatment plans, and seeking both medical and psychological support, individuals can navigate the challenges posed by wildfires and emerge stronger on the other side.

Popular Maps