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Wildfire Smoke

Wildfires are becoming larger and more frequent in the United States and Canada, in part due to the influence of climate change. Breathing wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but some people are at greater risk than others of experiencing health-related problems like heart and lung disease. All Illinoisans need to take steps to decrease the risks from breathing wildfire smoke and protect their health.

How can wildfire smoke impact health?

Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particulate matter from burning vegetation and materials. The pollutant of most concern from wildfire smoke is fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). PM 2.5 from wildfire smoke is damaging to human health because it can deeply penetrate lung tissue and even affect the heart and circulatory system.

Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick. Breathing wildfire smoke can have immediate health impacts, including respiratory and cardiovascular effects. Particle pollution may also affect the body’s ability to remove inhaled foreign materials, such as viruses and bacteria, from the lungs.

Who's most at-risk?

Some populations may experience more severe acute and chronic symptoms from exposure to wildfire smoke including:


Their lungs are still developing, and they are more likely to have high exposures to wildfire smoke because of more time spent outdoors, engaging in more vigorous activity, and inhaling more air per pound of body weight compared to adults.

Older Adults

Adults older than 60 can be at a higher risk of harmful effects from wildfire smoke due to pre-existing respiratory and heart conditions, as well as a decline in natural physiological defense systems.

People with chronic respiratory or cardiovascular disease

Individuals living with heart or lung diseases, such as coronary artery disease, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are more likely to be affected when fine particle pollution reaches an unhealthy level. People with diabetes may also be at risk.

People experiencing low socioeconomic status

Socioeconomic status (SES) is often defined using a variety of indicators, such as level of education, poverty status, race/ethnicity, and location of residence. Lower SES compared to higher SES may contribute to increased exposure to wildfire smoke. For example, some residents may be exposed to a higher baseline of unhealthy air quality if living or working near other sources of air pollution, such as roadways, freeways and areas with heavy industry. Moreover, minority and impoverished children and adults bear a disproportionate burden of heart and lung diseases, which may increase susceptibility to the health effects of wildfire smoke.

Protect your Health

While we have not yet experienced local wildfires in Illinois, wildfire smoke can travel long distances to Illinois from other states and countries. Recently, wildfires in Canada have been responsible for poor air quality in Illinois. Air quality alerts should be taken seriously by everyone in affected areas.

Limit your exposure to wildfire smoke:

Stay Informed

Check the current and forecasted air quality conditions at Illinois EPA or

Limit outdoor activities or take it easy if you must be outside

This includes reducing the intensity of exercise or strenuous work if possible.

Keep indoor air as clean as possible

  • Use a portable air cleaner and/or
  • Run your central heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system with the fresh-air intake closed or set on recirculate to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside and to filter the air

If you don’t have air conditioning and it’s too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter in an evacuation center or a public facility that has air conditioning and air filtration (e.g., library, community center)

Avoid activities that increase indoor air pollution

Avoid smoking, frying or broiling food, burning candles or incense, using a gas stove or vacuuming. Vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home, and activities like smoking, frying food, burning candles or using a gas stove can create more pollution.

Consider wearing a respirator

An “N95” or “N100” respirator, properly worn, can offer protection if you cannot avoid outdoor activities. Cloth or surgical masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke.

Take care of yourself

  • Take it easy, listen to your body and pay attention to your symptoms
  • Monitor your body for any changes in your breathing or health
  • If you have asthma or other breathing conditions, like COPD, make sure you have your rescue inhaler with you
  • People with asthma should review and follow their asthma action plan
  • Call your doctor or health care provider if you’re having trouble breathing or if your symptoms worsen

Air Quality Index

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (Illinois EPA) provides daily air quality forecasts based on the Air Quality Index (AQI) for fourteen sectors throughout Illinois. The AQI is a color-coded system that classifies air quality from Good (Green) to Hazardous (Maroon). Air quality forecasts are available at

Illinois residents are also encouraged to subscribe to receive FREE air quality forecasts via email or Twitter at A mobile “AIRNow” app is also available. Forecasts are important to help Illinoisans who are sensitive to air pollution for planning ahead to protect their health.

On most days, the AQI across Illinois is in the green (good) or yellow (moderate) categories. Occasionally, the AQI increases to the orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) or red (unhealthy) categories. While sensitive populations such as those with asthma, COPD, children, and older adults are more likely to experience health effects during orange and red AQI levels, unusually sensitive individuals can experience effects in the yellow category.

Check out the current air quality