Traffic light against smoky sky from Oregon 2020 wildfires

Smoke season has become an unfortunate, dreary part of every summer. Back in 2018, wildfires across Canada and the western United States plunged parts of the Pacific Northwest into a “smokestorm.” 2023 has seen an earlier fire season in Canada, and choking smoke has descended on New York and other urban centers on the Eastern Seaboard. It’s a bad time to go outdoors — find your local conditions. Here are a few tips for staying safe until the smoke passes.

Source: Mitch Ratcliffe

Meteorologist Cliff Mass said smoke season is “a return to the ‘old normal'” from the years of the early 20th century before fire and forest management were introduced in the region. He added that while climate change is a contributing factor, forest management policies must be changed to reduce the occurrence of smokestorms.

For those living in smoke-affected regions, which now reach from one coast to the other, you’ll recognize smoke pollution easily. It can cause burning eyes, a cough, sore throat, chest congestion, runny nose, and fatigue. You will smell and taste it in low concentrations. This writer can attest to the sinus headaches that smoke causes after several days.

What To Do

The Centers for Disease Control advises people with lung or heart disease, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other illnesses, as well as older adults and children to stay indoors. Having asthma medication available and monitoring the impact of smoke on one’s health are important each smoky day.

Staying at home, or “sheltering in place,” requires similar preparation for other major disasters. You need several days’ supplies of food and medicine. The Environmental Protection Agency advises that you eat food that does not need to be cooked — in particular, avoid frying or broiling food. It’s a great time to enjoy fresh produce.

Consider purchasing an HEPA indoor air cleaner, but not one that generates ozone to bind dust and make it fall to the floor because that can add to indoor pollution levels instead of reducing them. If you have air conditioning, turn it on.

If your home is too hot, seek shelter with air-conditioned friends or emergency services locations.


Monitor air quality data for your area. Click this Google link for a report based on your location. An index score of 50 or below is considered healthy, according to the EPA’s AirNow service.

And have NIOSH, N-45, or P-100 masks on hand and use them correctly. Unfortunately, the masks are made for work and do not provide complete protection against smoke pollution, according to the EPA. Simply pulling one on is not protecting you from smokestorm irritation.

What Not To Do

Don’t rush out and prepare for smoke pollution after it starts if you are in an at-risk group. Get by on what you have and stay put unless it is absolutely necessary.

Don’t go out for your regular run and limit exercise that will force deep breathing.

If you are a smoker, don’t step outside for a smoke or light up inside. Both will aggravate an already bad situation.

Relief in Natural Ways

Earth911 has a variety of natural solutions to eye and chest irritation, the bad taste in your mouth, as well as headache and fatigue. Try one of the following if you have the ingredients in the house:

Originally published on August 22, 2018, this article was updated in June 2023.

By Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch is the publisher at and Director of Digital Strategy and Innovation at Intentional Futures, an insight-to-impact consultancy in Seattle. A veteran tech journalist, Mitch is passionate about helping people understand sustainability and the impact of their decisions on the planet.