With the recent Blue Cut Fire that has raged across California’s Cajon Pass and with the numerous wildfires that seem to plague much of the western United States each year, parents should be aware of how to protect children from the dangerous effects of wildfires and from the particulate pollutants that accompany them. While adults can be affected poorly by wildfires, the elderly and children are most at risk from this natural disaster due to their weaker immune systems or small sizes. In addition, children’s lungs are not as developed as adults’ lungs are, and they breathe at faster paces.

“Children with asthma are particularly at risk. Any type of asthma, even intermittent asthma, can exponentially worsen when the lungs and airways are exposed to sooty, smoky air. Additionally, children with seasonal allergies often find that their symptoms worsen during wildfires.”

Reduce Risks of Asthma with Improved Air Quality

To decrease the potential for asthma flare-ups, parents should keep their children in places where the air is as clean as possible. Children should be kept indoors in buildings with air conditioning. When in the car, the windows should be rolled up, and the air conditioning should be left on at all times. In the car, the air should be set to recirculate; at home, the fresh-air intake valve should be kept closed. In addition, parents should decrease activities that increase indoor pollutants, such as cleaning the house, running wood stoves or even burning candles.

Parents should ensure that their children’s inhalers are up-to-date and that they have enough medication to keep some at home and some at school. The best results come from using cutting-edge steroid controller inhalers rather than the older style of quick-relief puffers. If children are using their inhalers more than once every four hours, they should be brought in to see the doctor. In addition, parents should keep an eye out for symptoms, such as excessive coughing, wheezing, extreme fatigue or very pale skin, which indicate that the child’s doctor should be consulted.

Dr. Matney can consult with any concerned parents regarding their children’s respiratory symptoms following this fire. Parents should note that negative physical effects from the fire can persist for several weeks following the blaze. In the meantime, they should diligently look at air quality indices and air pollutant reports from local news sources to determine when it is safe to send their children outside once again.