Bonfires: An Asthmatics Worst Nightmare.

Bonfires: An Asthmatics Worst Nightmare

Now that summer is in full swing, depending on where you live, you might be counting down the days until fall when the weather will begin to cool down. Cool, crisp days and nights, leaves turning colors….. and the inevitable bonfire. “I can’t wait for bonfire season!” -said no asthmatic ever. I grew up and spent my entire life in Southern California until spring of 2017 when my family and I moved to the Midwest. While we absolutely LOVE it here and have zero regrets moving to our new home state, it has come with its unique set of health challenges. One thing in particular are the amount of fires that are started on purpose. This ranges from small social gatherings with a tiny fire pit to people burning their trash to farmers burning part of their fields in a controlled burn. Basically an asthmatics worst nightmare. Depending on your asthma triggers, smoke from fires can range from a minor annoyance to a critical hospital admission. Knowing tips and how to deal with those pesky fires can make all of the difference and keep you breathing.

Avoid as much as possible

There have been many events that I have had to decline an invitation to due to there being a bonfire. While I often times feel bad for having to miss out on things that I would have otherwise loved to attend, I just simply have to put my health first. I can’t risk having a severe asthma attack because of a bonfire. Thankfully, my friends and family completely understand and don’t hold it against me.

Be prepared!

Knowing ahead of time the potential for a fire is always helpful. But in reality, we will inevitably be exposed to smoke from fires when we aren’t expecting it, and we need to be prepared for it. Always keep your rescue inhaler with you at all times! If you are going somewhere that you know will have some sort of fire, talk with your doctor about using your rescue inhaler preemptively before you are exposed to the smoke. Invest in a mask with a filter that you can wear over your mouth and nose. I personally purchased a vogmask online and it has been a lifesaver! I actually have two of them now. I keep one in my purse at all times just in case. I am super thankful that I purchased one because I find myself needing to put it on quite often. If you do not have a mask, use a scarf around your mouth and nose to help filter the air you are breathing. If you don’t have a scarf or mask, pull your shirt/sweatshirt up over your mouth and nose. That is so much better than nothing.

If your house is drafty and you can smell smoke from outside fires with your windows closed, an air purifier might be of help to you. There are many different kinds of air purifiers on the market and if you decide to purchase one, be sure that it has a HEPA filter.

Have an exit strategy

If you are somewhere and are exposed to smoke of any kind and your asthma is starting to flare up, know the fastest way to get away from it if possible. Be sure that whoever you are with knows of your asthma and can help you if you need it. If your asthma starts flaring badly know where the closest hospital is, especially if you are somewhere new. It is better to get out of there than stay and be exposed even more.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (18)
  • Shellzoo
    7 months ago

    I camp a few times a year and usually after an evening sitting by the fire, I will be hoarse the next day and have a cough. Going to test out how I handle a campfire after being told I have asthma later this summer. I would prefer not to wear a mask and will try to stay out of the direction of the smoke but roasting hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire is a tradition.

  • JanetH
    7 months ago

    Wow, I too live in Michigan and seems like my fellow Michiganders are very fond of fires! I used to be able to handle the occasional bonfire when I was younger, but haven’t been able to for a very long time. I just got back from 5 days of camping. My poor husband enjoys a campfire some nights mostly by himself. I sometimes check in for a bit, but if the smoke starts following me, I’m outta there. We don’t cook on a fire when camping; mainly use an electric skillet or propane stove outside. I carry a mask, extra inhaler and steroids if needed. I had to use my rescue inhaler a few times, nothing really serious, more due to novices starting fires with a lot of smoke. We had great weather, were on Lake Michigan, even had some rain a few days, which helped a lot in washing smoke and pollen from the air!

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi again, JanetH and thanks for your post. You certainly seem to understand your asthma thoroughly. You are well prepared and equipped to manage whatever conditions arise while traveling to keep your asthma under control – even practicing ‘avoidance’ when you are able. It’s great to see you are able to maintain the lifestyle you and your husband enjoy so much. Keep up the good work! Warm regards, Leon (site moderator)

  • JanetH
    7 months ago

    PS we are hoping our next camper has AC. At present, we bring an air cleaner and run it in the pop-up, since we always have a site with electric.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi JanetH and thanks for your post. That sounds like an excellent idea – to make certain as you shop for your next camper, you look for those which are equipped with air conditioning! Running an air condtioner AND an air cleaner will help you to manage your condition so much more effectively. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • sue1941
    7 months ago

    I live in Michigan, where each city makes its own fireworks laws. In my city, fireworks are OK 2 days before, day of and 2 days after EVERY single national holiday! Our house is closed w/central air and 2 HEPA filters, but we have night after night of smoke in the house, not to mention terrified dog and cat. Neighbors’ fire pits are a continuous problem. We’re so proud of one adult granddaughter, who bought a gas fire pit!

  • JanetH
    7 months ago

    We have a smoky neighbor, too. It drives me crazy that we can’t open windows on weekends, because they have a fire going every Friday and Saturday night. Thankfully city ordinance only allows it those two.

  • Shellzoo
    7 months ago

    Sue, I am also in Michigan and I have no idea what the fireworks laws are for my community but, I have neighbors who do fireworks on most weekends. I just stay inside with my windows closed and the AC on. I expect lots of fireworks around Labor Day weekend.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi sue1941 and thanks so much for sharing the challenges you face living in your particular Michigan city. It sounds like you have genuine issues that sadly, you cannot do much about. What exactly do you do to cope with these difficulties??
    And, kudos to your granddaughter for exhibiting such sensitivities!!
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi sue1941 and thanks so much for sharing the challenges you face living in your particular Michigan city. It sounds like you have genuine issues that sadly, you cannot to much about. What exactly do you do to cope with these difficulties.
    And, kudos to your granddaughter for exhibiting such sensitivities!!
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • SandiOli
    7 months ago

    I am a lifetime Michigander, and became a chronic asthmatic at 40. I do miss the smell of burning leaves, and feel badly when friends say, “Come over for a campfire”. and I have to decline. I still get twinges of feeling like a ‘wimp’ but want to keep my asthma under control more than pleasing people by taking a risk. I do notice I am bothered when all the neighbors in the cool weather begin to use their fireplaces. I did not think about using the purifier, but will now . Thank you and…Just Breathe!

  • JanetH
    7 months ago

    Yup, i feel your pain totally. My first husband and i had friends who had a bonfire as a social event twice/year. I went a few times, and didn’t have major asthma, but my nose got so stuffed up for days after, it just wasn’t worth it. I just bowed out after that.

  • Shellzoo
    7 months ago

    Sandi, I am a fellow Michigander and in October and November everyone in my community rakes their leaves to the curb and burns them. I only found out I have asthma this year but have always had problems during the Fall months when leaves are burning and I have to walk the dog or drive through the smoke. I think I will order a vogmask for my car and one to keep in my purse. I am trying to plan now for that season. I can’t avoid all the smoke but I can at least try to protect myself from it.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi SandiOli and thanks so much for sharing your own experiences and feelings when it comes to dealing with your condition and these sorts of triggers. Glad you were able to find some suggestions that you feel are practical for you from our website.
    Wishing you the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    8 months ago

    Is there a good source for Vogmasks? I think I should invest in a couple.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi Shellzoo – if you’re not kidding here, I would suggest you do a GOOGLE search using the words, Vogmask. You may be surprised by the number of choices and range of prices for this filtering mask. Please do check back with us and let us know what you decide. Leon (site moderator)

  • Shellzoo
    8 months ago

    I went to see the fort in Mackinaw City Michigan a few weeks ago. Several exhibits had open fires for cooking, blacksmith display etc. Pre asthma it would not have affected me but by the time I was driving home, I was coughing frequently. I went from feeling great to having a chronic cough, bronchitis and antibiotics, and using my rescue inhaler daily for over a month. I love camping and sitting by a good fire so feeling pretty disappointed. Not looking forward to October when everyone in my area seems to be burning leaves.

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi again, Shellzoo and thanks for your post. When you are familiar with your own personal asthma triggers, you may want to give some strong consideration to what sorts of activities to engage in and which to avoid. It will go a long way in helping you to manage your condition. I thought you might find it helpful to look over this article on asthma and triggers: https://asthma.net/triggers/. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

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