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How to Minimize Unanticipated Lung Problems Caused by Campfires

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How to Minimize Unanticipated Lung Problems Caused by Campfires

Source: Banner Health 

Camping season is upon us, and with it comes the beloved campfire. Delicious, smokey hotdogs, sweet, gooey s’mores, and chilling scary stories all hold tradition around the crackling flames at night after a long day of camping fun. 

Those nights make memories. Unfortunately, they could also lead to lung problems. 

The good news is, there are ways to enjoy summer’s fun fires while minimizing the possible damage to your lungs. Christian Bime, MD, a critical care medicine specialist with a focus in pulmonology at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, outlined the risks and offered tips for safer summertime evenings. 

What’s dangerous about summer campfires? 

You know what it’s like when you spend an evening around a summer fire. The smoke gets into everything—your clothes, blankets, towels and even your hair. That smoke gets into your lungs, too. And the risk to your lungs is that you breathe in tiny irritants when you breathe in the smoke. 

“Summer fires can generate what we call particulate matter,” Dr. Bime said. The particulates from fire are very small—they have a diameter 30 times smaller than a human hair. These smaller particulates pose a bigger risk to your health than larger particulates, and the lungs and the heart are at greatest risk. 

The danger of lung or heart problems is highest for people with preexisting conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, interstitial lung disease, heart failure and irregular heartbeats

Children are also at high risk, because their lungs are still developing, and they might have undiagnosed asthma or reactive airways disease. And older adults’ risk is higher because they are more likely to have chronic heart and lung conditions. 

“Many studies have linked exposures to small particulates with increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits and even deaths,” Dr. Bime said. “High-risk folks should consider alternatives to repeated exposure to particulates.” 

And the health risks aren’t always clear right away. Long-term exposure to small particulates from smoke can lead to low lung function, chronic bronchitis and premature death. 

Along with small particulates, you might also be breathing in harmful gases, depending on the type of wood you’re burning. “Many people do not realize that burning certain types of wood can release potential toxins,” Dr. Bime said. 

How can you enjoy summer campfires more safely? 

Here are some tips on safely enjoying your campfire: 

  • Keep the time you’re exposed to the fire and smoke as short as possible 

  • Sit away from the fire and pay attention to the way the wind is blowing so you can minimize your contact with the smoke 

  • Keep your fire small 

  • Choose natural gas or propane instead of wood 

  • If you burn wood, use dry wood—seasoned, dry wood burns hotter and cleaner than wet wood 

  • Avoid burning plastic—don’t toss plastic trash in the fire 

  • Burn wood only in well-ventilated places 

The bottom line 

Gathering around summer fires can be a fun way to spend time with family and friends. But the smoke from these fires can be dangerous to your health. Play it safe and keep your smoke exposure to a minimum so you can keep your lungs as healthy as possible. 

If you are concerned you might have lung problems, a pulmonologist can help. Contact Campbell County Health Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine if you experience increased difficulty breathing after exposure to a campfire or wildfire smoke. A referral from your primary healthcare provider is needed to see a pulmonologist. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider immediately if conditions with your breathing change.  

  • Category: Campbell County Medical Group Family Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Pulmonary & Sleep Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Walk-In Clinic & Occupational Health, Campbell County Medical Group Wright Clinic & Occupational Health, Campbell County Memorial Hospital, Respiratory Therapy, CCH News, CCMG News, CCMH News, Health Matters, Health News