Smoke may smell good, but it's not good for you. Wood smoke can affect everyone, but children under 18, older adults, people with diabetes, heart disease, asthma or other lung diseases are the most vulnerable.
Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. A major health threat from smoke comes from fine particles (also called particle pollution, particulate matter, or PM). These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis.
How Fine Particles Can Affect Your Health
Particle exposure can lead to a variety of health effects. For example, numerous studies link particle levels to increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits—and even to death from heart or lung diseases. Both long- and short-term particle exposures have been linked to health problems. For a more complete discussion of wood smoke health effects research see Health Effects of Breathing Wood Smoke (PDF) (5pp, 58k, About PDF)
Long-term exposures, such as those experienced by people living for many years in areas with high particle levels, have been associated with problems such as reduced lung function and the development of chronic bronchitis—and even premature death.
Short-term exposures to particles (hours or days) can aggravate lung disease, causing asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. To learn more about asthma, visit www.epa.gov/asthma, www.noattacks.org or www.cdc.gov/asthma.
Follow the guidelines we have provided in this Web site for using your wood-burning appliance efficiently and safely. It's important to limit your exposure to smoke—especially if you are more susceptible than others:
- If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma, you may experience health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels than healthy people.
- Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, possibly because they are more likely to have chronic heart or lung diseases than younger people.
- Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they're more likely to be active outdoors.
For additional information on the health effects of wood smoke, visit the AirNow Web site