Fire Pits, Bonfires and Your Lungs: 7 Safety Tips
Can breathing in wood smoke from your fire pit or bonfire harm your lungs? Learn about the dangers of wood smoke and get seven tips for outdoor fire safety.
Planning to gather friends or family around a crackling bonfire or cozy fire pit? Absorb the atmosphere — but not the smoke.
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Wood smoke contains millions of tiny particles. When you breathe in smoke, the particles can get deep into your respiratory system.
You’ve likely experienced the results — stinging eyes, runny nose and coughing. These symptoms are short-term for most people. But for those with underlying respiratory illnesses, inhaling smoke is dangerous.
Here’s how to protect your lungs and make your next fire safer, says Pulmonary Function Lab Director Bohdan Pichurko, MD.
Most people can enjoy an outdoor fire safely by not sitting too close to a fire and not breathing in the smoke. But it’s a different story for the nearly 40 million Americans with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema, says Dr. Pichurko.
“If you have an underlying respiratory disease, inhaling smoke from wood, even briefly, can cause a chain of airway tightening that can land you in the emergency room. If you have asthma or COPD, take extra precautions,” he advises. “Sit as far from the fire as possible, and pay attention to which way the wind is blowing at all times.”
Smoke isn’t the only health hazard you should avoid. The heat itself is harmful. “Inhaling air that is consistently at a higher temperature than the surrounding air can cause more damage to the lining of your lower respiratory tract than smoke inhalation,” Dr. Pichurko says.
If you feel intense heat on your hands or face, that clearly signals the air you’re breathing is too hot. You need to move back from the fire, he says.
If you’re like most people, you may not give much thought to constructing your fires. But you should, Dr. Pichurko says. Here are his seven best tips for building safer fires outdoors:
So don’t say goodbye to toasted marshmallows. Follow the tips outlined above, and you’re on your way to enjoying outdoor fires safely.