With the wildfires happening here in California in recent years, residents have been at a high risk of exposure to inhaling the resulting smoke. Inhaling even a small amount of wildfire smoke can cause serious damage to the respiratory system, and in some cases, even death. Inhaling the smoke from wildfires is actually the leading cause of death in the event of these emergencies. Widespread fires tend to move along very quickly, causing smoke to linger for miles - even if you are nowhere near the actual fire. If you suspect that a loved one or friend of yours has inhaled wildfire smoke, it’s crucial to know how to both identify the symptoms and how to treat the inhalation. 

How to Identify Smoke Inhalation

Inhaling wildfire smoke doesn’t just present potential dangers to the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. It can also impact the eyes, and possibly even your skin. There are ways to identify inhalation based on common symptoms. If you see that someone has trouble breathing, coughs frequently or has breath that smells like smoke - these are all typical telltale signs of smoke inhalation that are based on the respiratory system. 

When it comes to the eyes, common signs of smoke inhalation include itchiness, redness and watering. If wildfire smoke has damaged the skin, it usually becomes itchy and irritated. If there is black residue showing up in the mouth or nose, this is a clear indication that there might be some severe damage from smoke inhalation. 

Treatments for Wildfire Smoke Inhalation

If you see any of the above symptoms happening to anyone, dial 911 and get them medical attention immediately. If getting them to a hospital or doctor is sometimes not an immediate option, below are six first aid measures you can take to help treat inhalation until the person can get medical attention.

  • Monitor Breathing Closely

If they are conscious, ask them if they can breathe properly. If not, be sure to pay close attention to how they are breathing and check their airways for black residue. Also be sure to closely monitor their pulse

  • Get to Safety Immediately 

As soon as you can, get the person away from the smoke. Any damage that might have occurred can get even worse if you stay in the area. 

  • Are They Injured? 

Inhaling wildfire smoke can cause a person to pass out, potentially causing broken bones or other injuries. Immediately perform first aid on these injuries. 

  • CPR

If the person isn’t breathing and medical help isn’t immediately available, perform CPR. 

  • Give Oxygen

If an oxygen tank is available, supply it to the person immediately. Doing this can give valuable fresh air until paramedics can arrive or you can get them to a hospital. If someone has passed out due to smoke inhalation and is given oxygen, it can cause them to become disoriented or act out to those around them. This is due to the smoke impacting the brain, so keep a close eye on those coming back to consciousness. 

  • Pay Close Attention to Changes

Keep a close eye on any person regaining consciousness and observe any behavioral changes. Also, keep an emergency radio next to you so you can get any important safety or evacuation information.