Health Effects of Wood Smoke

by Sharon Hopkins


The smell of smoke, especially wood smoke is loved by many! This is probably because it brings back fond memories of cozy nights, sitting by the fire. Cooking food on wooden stoves adds a delicious, mouth-watering aroma to the smoke. Unfortunately, inhaling wood smoke is not very different from breathing in cigarette smoke.

In general, smoke comprises numerous tiny particles of carbon compounds, which occur when organic material like coal or wood is burnt. Wooden stoves mainly emit carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate material. These organic compounds mainly include benzopyrenes, dibenzocarbazoles, dibenzanthracenes, phenols, aldehydes and cresols.

The adverse health effects of wood smoke can be quite severe and are felt by everyone. These include:

Long Term Effects

  • Decrease in lung function: The particles present in smoke are too small to be filtered by your respiratory system and so they can easily wind up deep within the lungs. Once these compounds enter the lungs, they stay there for months and cause chemical changes as well as structural damage. Excessive exposure to wood smoke may interfere with proper lung development in babies and toddlers.
  • Bronchitis: Prolonged inhalation of wood smoke could cause people, especially younger children, to develop a long-term inflammation in the airways and lungs. This condition is known as chronic bronchitis. The severity of this disease depends on the amount of exposure to smoke.
  • Cardiovascular problems: The fine particles present in smoke affect not only the lungs, but also the heart, leading to Cor Pulmonale, irregular heartbeat and non-fatal heart attacks. Those who are already suffering from heart diseases may experience symptoms like shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain and fatigue because of exposure to wood smoke.
  • Respiratory diseases: The compounds present in wood smoke depress the immune system, which damages the protective layer of cells in the lungs. This makes the respiratory system more vulnerable to viral and bacterial attacks, and increases the risks of diseases like pneumonia.
  • Cancer: It is a well-known fact that cigarette smoking can lead to cancer. However, the harmful compounds present in wood smoke are quite similar to the ones present in cigarette smoke. Therefore, excessive contact with wood smoke too can result in the development of cancer.

Short Term Effects

Some of the symptoms caused by wood smoke exposure last for a short period of time, but may come and go, like:

When the levels of particulates in the air are low, only vulnerable and sensitive people are likely to be affected. However, as the levels rise, even those who are healthy may be affected. While everyone can feel the impact of wood smoke, those who are especially vulnerable include:

  • Infants, toddlers and young children
  • Senior citizens
  • People suffering from respiratory diseases

Therefore, it is important that you protect yourself and your family from wood smoke, especially if you have a wooden stove or heater at home. If possible, switch over to gas or electronic heaters and stoves. In case wood heating techniques are the only option, make sure that:

  • There is ample air circulation within the heater, by adjusting the air intake or flue
  • You check the heater regularly to see if any smoke is being produced
  • Only well-seasoned hardwoods are used
  • Treated, stained or painted wood is strictly avoided
  • Wood used for fireplaces is copped into small pieces
  • For storage, the wood is stacked loosely and kept in an area that is well-aired

Speak to your healthcare provider for more ways to minimize the harmful health effects of wood smoke.

References:

  1. https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/publications/92046.pdf
  2. http://www.public.health.wa.gov.au/3/1645/2/wood_smoke.pm
  3. http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/pdfs/woodsmoke_health_effects_jan07.pdf

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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