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Protecting Children from Wildfire Smoke

Smoke from wildfires in Canada is affecting air quality in parts of the U.S. Northeast. Understand the risks to children and how to protect them.

Smoke from wildfires can spread hundreds of miles from the original source. Here is what you can do to protect children.

Why are children at risk from wildfire smoke?

Children are particularly at risk from exposure to wildfire smoke. This is because they breathe more air relative to their size and are more active than adults. In addition, they are still growing and developing.

What are the health effects of wildfire smoke on children?

 The health effects of wildfires on a child can include:

  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Coughing
  • Irritation of the nose, throat, and eyes
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded

How can you reduce exposure?

Monitor local air quality levels using tools like the US EPA’s and search by ZIP code.

Activity recommendations if Air Quality Index (AQI) is greater than 150 (unhealthy):
Note: For younger children, or those who are particularly sensitive, the following activity recommendations may apply at lower AQI levels. When an air emergency extends beyond a few days, these actions should be considered at lower AQI levels.

Outdoor activity should be minimized and athletic and physical education stopped for all children until air quality improves. Children with breathing problems, such as asthma, are at increased risk. They should stay in a clean-air environment and be kept indoors until air quality improves. If your child does have asthma, it is important to make sure that you have all their medications including their daily preventive medicines and rescue inhalers available. Watch for signs or symptoms of harmful health effects, listed above. Children having these symptoms whose usual medications are not helping should be taken to a nearby medical facility.

Stay indoors to minimize smoke exposure, take steps to improve indoor air quality:

  • Close all windows, doors, and any other openings.
  • Set your air conditioner to recirculate if possible.
  • If you have central air or heating, replace the filter with one rated MERV13 or higher.
  • Whether or not you have central air, consider a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter or other room air filtration system. NEVER use an air filter that generates ozone.

When in a car, keep windows closed. Adjust the air conditioning setting to re-circulate. Replace air filters according to your vehicle maintenance schedule.

Use a face mask when outdoors

Face masks can help protect the lungs. The effectiveness of masks (NIOSH-approved N95, K94, KN95, or medical masks) depend a lot on how well they fit. If well-fitted to the face, a child over age 2 will get more protection from a NIOSH-approved N95 mask than from a medical mask. Humidifiers or breathing through a wet washcloth do not prevent breathing in smoke.

Activity Recommendations at higher AQI levels:

  • 201-300 (very unhealthy): Children should avoid all physical activity outdoors.
  • 301-500 (hazardous): Children should avoid going outdoors.

To download and share this information, click here:

Factsheet: What to do if Wildfire Smoke is Affecting Your Area – NYSCHECK

This resource was adapted from the American Academy of Pediatrics  Wildfires: What Parents Need to Know – by the Region 2 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) and the New York State Children’s Environmental Health Centers (NYSCHECK) Network.

The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is the coordinating center for NYSCHECK under the leadership of Maida Galvez, MD, MPH, Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health; and Pediatrics and Perry Sheffield, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health; and Pediatrics.

Learn more about environmental pediatrics at Mount Sinai


Wildfires: What Parents Need to Know – AAP – EPA
Children’s Health and Wildfires – PEHSU
Masks to Protect Children and Pregnant People from Wildfire Smoke: A Resource for Families – PEHSU
Air Quality guide for Particle Pollution – EPA

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