Health Risks of Wood Smoke – Should You Be Concerned?

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health risks of wood smoke

Why Is Wood Smoke A Problem?

Many people think that wood smoke isn’t dangerous and harmful because wood is a natural substance, but the truth is – wood smoke causes a lot of problems for people all over the world. Smoke produced by burning wood is full of tiny particles that have both short and long-term effects on our health and lungs.

People who burn wood in fireplaces are exposed to them, and they can suffer all kinds of respiratory problems and even lung cancer. Homes where wood is burned, have higher smoke levels than other homes. Even if there is no burning wood at the time – the home is still full of dangerous particles.

Why Is Wood Smoke So Dangerous?

Wood smoke is a mixture of dangerous solids, liquids, and greases. Wood smoke, like cigarette smoke, is full of all kinds of air pollutants that can cause serious health problems and even cancer. Fine particles in the smoke are what causes the majority of the problems.

Those tiny particles are bits of liquids and solids released by the burning wood. When you breathe it in, these particles stick to the inner side of your lungs. The particles are toxic, and they can stay inside of your lungs for months at a time. The prolonged effect causes structural damage to the lungs which results in all kinds of diseases in the long run.

The wood smoke particles are tiny, smaller in diameter than a human hair. Some of them are known as organic chemicals. Those are substances made out of hydrogen and carbon, and they are the ones responsible for respiratory problems. Some of them are formaldehyde, benzene, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

General Health Effects of Wood Smoke

Wood smoke can cause both short-term and long-term health effects that can severely impact the quality of your life. Some of the short-term effects are:

  • headaches
  • irritated throat, eyes, lungs
  • lung inflammation or swelling
  • higher risk of respiratory diseases
  • more severe symptoms of existing diseases like bronchitis, asthma, and so on
  • increased stroke and heart attack risks.
wood smoke asthma

The short term effects vary from person to person, but you can see already that the consequences of breathing in wood smoke can be very serious right away. If you get through the short-term effects, this is what you can expect in the long run:

  • structural and chemical changes to the lungs
  • chronic diseases like emphysema and bronchitis
  • cancer.

Healthy adults have a strong resistance to the effects of wood smoke, but feeling a shortness of breath is common for everyone. Many people also experience sore throats, irritated eyes, a feeling of tightness in the chest, allergy symptoms, and so on. Everyone can experience problems caused by wood smoke, but there are those who can have major issues when exposed to small levels of smoke. Children, the elderly, and adults with existing lung and heart conditions are the ones in the biggest danger.

How Much Wood Smoke Are You Exposed To?

There are two things you have to keep in mind to answer this question: how much wood do you burn and what are the chemical levels in that wood. Also, you should figure out the amount of time spent breathing indoor and outdoor.

To put things in simple terms – the more time you spend around a fire – the bigger the health risk. If the wood is burning at high temperatures, the risk of smoke toxins entering your lungs is lower. But, when the fire dies down, the air pollutants increase, putting you at higher risk. You should open your windows or step outside when that happens.

What Can You Do To Prevent Wood Smoke Inhalation?

You should be careful about choosing how to heat your house. Instead of wood, try using different heating fuels like heating oil, gas or electricity.

If the wood is the only fuel you can use, make sure to burn dry wood. When the wood arrives, split it into small pieces and take care while storing it. Make sure the pieces are at least 5 inches off the ground to prevent them from taking in ground moisture. Also, your wood should dry for a year before you use it.

Even if you take all of the precautions, you are still at risk from wood smoke. Air Purifiers with a true HEPA filter should clear your air of all pollutants caused by wood smoke.

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