T he Australian bushfire crisis drew attention to the effects smoke can have upon people and animals. Many people ended up in the hospital with respiratory problems and, for some of them, the recovery wasn’t quite as rapid as expected. This happened because smoke is loaded with heavy chemical substances that can permanently affect the respiratory system, especially if the person exposed has pre-existent health conditions.
Nevertheless, not only Australia has to deal with smoke. In fact, it is present in our households every day. Either someone is smoking in the house or someone is not a perfect cook and keeps forgetting to remove the pan from the oven, the smoke can rapidly take over the entire house, affecting children and family members who are fighting with allergies and asthma.
Now that we have concluded that smoke can seriously influence the quality of our life and function as a source for a number of diseases, let’s take the time and understand how it works and how we can find solutions to keep it away from our lungs.
What is Smoke Made of?
Smoke is a mixture of droplets and tiny solid particles that raise into the air and can remain floating for up to a week. But what’s truly dangerous in smoke is the size of the particles. At less than 10 microns in diameter, they can easily be inhaled and penetrate tissues, reaching vital organs like the heart and lungs. While dust and other small contaminants can invade your airways as well, they don’t have the power to infiltrate into your bloodstream. Plus, they are easier to contain by using and adequate air purifier for dust. Smoke, on the other hand, isn’t always visible and can be difficult to keep under control.
Depending on the source of smoke, it can be more or less dangerous. It all depends on the material being burned, which can release more than carbon dioxide and ash. Volatile organic compounds are often released with smoke and a wide range of chemicals, so let’s take a look at possible sources to identify which are the most dangerous:
- Wildfires – The problem with wildfires is that they produce thick smoke, although it is the less harmful of all, being the product of trees burning without the presence of chemicals. Nevertheless, it is difficult to fight it, unless you use a device specially designed to absorb smoke
- Pest control measures – Fumigation produces a strong smoke that is filled with pesticides, that’s why it is not recommended to remain in the space after it has been performed
- Cooking devices – This is one of the most common types of smoke that invades people’s homes. Barbecues especially are responsible for ruining the purity of the air
- Tobacco – Cigars leave behind one of the most dangerous types of smoke, as the substance burned isn’t only tobacco but a wide range of harmful chemicals
Health effects and symptoms
The consequences on health depend on multiple factors like the quantity of smoke, the type of smoke, the duration of exposure, preexistent health conditions, or the organism’s genetic resistance. However, most experts agree that tobacco smoke should be avoided at all costs as it contains over seven thousand chemical substances with 70 of them being identified as cancer triggers.
In general, the symptoms consist in a runny nose, tears, cough, sore eyes, and difficulties to breathe, and the main health conditions that can develop as a result of long exposure to smoke are:
- Hearth disease
- Lung disease
- Pre-term deliveries
- Fetal and infant deaths
As shown, the elderly and children are the most exposed, but everybody can be affected if the situation persists for a long time. If you are a smoker, you should consider taking all the measures to maintain the air clean for your kids, so they can grow and develop without heart or lung problems.
How to Clear the Air?
Although there’s little you can do to control pollution outdoors, you have plenty of ways to keep smoke out of your house:
- Ventilate the rooms – If the smoke source is internal, open all the windows and let the polluted air out. Unfortunately, it may take a while until the air becomes fresh again, so this operation would be uncomfortable during the winter. In this case, ventilation can be ensured through a window fan. Thus, the polluted air will be released outdoors and fresh air will enter the room, all without leaving the heat out.
- Quit smoking indoors – Tobacco smoke can easily fill a room and smokers don’t even feel its presence anymore. But it finds its way into the lungs of your kids’ and non-smoker family members’ lungs. This is why you would want to do it outside. The smell will stay away from your drapes and upholstery and everybody will be happy.
- Purify the air – There are plenty of devices on the market that can help you get rid of smoke, some more efficient than others. Nevertheless, for an air purifier for smoke to be effective, it should come with an activated carbon filter. It will entrap the VOCs released through burning and absorb the odor. At the same time, a performant HEPA filter is mandatory, even a HyperHepa, which is a more advanced filter that can deal with particles down to 0.003 microns. Smoke’s more dangerous components are some tiny particles called PM2.5, which measure around 2.5 microns, so this filter can remove them easily.
- Wash all the fabrics that have been exposed – Curtains, pillowcases, bedding, everything that has come in contact with smoke should be cleaned, otherwise, the smell will persist for weeks.
The best way to escape smoke effects is to avoid it, but we all know that this is almost impossible, especially if living in an urban area. In this case, it is best to use an air purifier that can handle the smoke and reduce odors and keep the air inside your home safe. On the other hand, if you have to deal with a temporary situation, like a wildfire, you should check pollution values in your area daily and try to respect the measures recommended by the authorities like, for example, to wear a mask, stay hydrated, and keep an eye on the symptoms that may signal a smoke intoxication.