Wildfire smoke is not just a West Coast issue; in the past three years there were major fires reported in Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania.
With another day of poor air quality in the Inland Northwest and another day of pool closures, many people have been asking whether or not there are long term health effects of breathing caused by the smoky air.
The good news is that the lungs of most healthy adults can recover fully from temporary smoke damage, even in severe cases.
Some pulmonologists compare wildfire smoke exposure to cigarettes--the more you smoke, the more you increase your risk of cancer; however, you may not get cancer from one acute exposure.
While the short-term health impacts are still alarming, they are easily studied by tracking hospital visits.
Even though short term exposure has been studied vastly, doctors know almost nothing about the chronic and long-term effects.
Controlled laboratory studies give some clues about what happens in the human body, but these exposures are often quite different from what happens in the real world.
Wildfires are unpredictable which makes it hard for scientists to evaluate individuals and communities who have been exposed to smoke.
It's possible that smoke inhalation could contribute to health problems down the line, but academic studies on the topic are in short supply.
Smoke also tends to become more diluted with distance from the source. Health experts say that right now there really isn't any way to estimate a safe distance where the pollutants are so diluted that they pose no risk at all.