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Smoke Gets in Your Eyes…and Lungs and Heart

exercising-outdoors-smoke

By Jon Rubright, MD
Family Medicine at Boulder Medical Center

Smoke in the air is a significant health risk both for people with chronic lung disease, asthma and heart conditions, as well as those who are healthy and exercise outdoors.

Studies show that fires in California and Montana have been associated with a rise in all cause mortality and hospitalization. This means that people are showing a significant rise in heart attack, stroke, and hospitalizations for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), even when trying to avoid smoky conditions outside.

These health risk factors are thought to be related to small, highly irritative, noxious particles that develop in the air under smoky conditions. These tiny particles, which are smaller than a red blood cell, travel deeply into the lungs, enter cells, and even cross into the blood stream. Noxious particles have been shown to have long-term immune system impacts, causing chronic inflammation within the vascular system and damage to cellular immunity.

What can be done for protection?

For those with chronic disease, staying indoors on smoky days and paying attention to air quality alerts can be very helpful. Air conditioning is also helpful to some degree, but using a room air purifier with a HEPA filter in the bedroom may have a bigger effect. Indoor air quality is an important consideration for adults as well as children, especially those with asthma.

What about going outdoors…are masks beneficial?

The best protection for smoke exposure in the outdoors are N-95 facial masks, but these are difficult to use during conversation and nearly impossible to use with exercise. A simple facial covering is probably best to provide some protection, however, the cost of exposure has to be balanced with the benefit of exercise when evaluating risk on low to moderate smoky days.

Days with heavy smoke and pollution advisories are best avoided. Look for days when the prevailing winds carry the smoke away from your area, as well as days after storms and rain.

With caution and a little planning you can still get outside and enjoy the great outdoors during our smoky Rocky Mountain summers.


Jon Rubright, MD
Family Medicine
Boulder Medical Center

Dr. Jon Rubright is a native Coloradan, born and raised in Hygiene, Colo. As a family medicine physician, he is committed to connecting with his patients and their families. “I enjoy getting to know my patients, establishing continuity of care, and really listening and learning their life stories over time.”

Dr. Rubright is accepting new patients at his clinic at Boulder Medical Center in Louisville. Call (303) 666-2710 to make an appointment.

Click Here for Dr. Rubright’s full profile.

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