Sinuses Burning? How Fire Season Affects Your Congestion

Sinuses Burning? How Fire Season Affects Your Congestion

Summer is here, which means warmer weather, more fun in the sun, and unfortunately for many parts of the United States, wildfire season and the congestion that comes with it. While fires can occur at any time of year, most wildfires occur during the summer months when the weather is at its hottest and driest. (It also falls right into peak allergy season for many.)

Wildfire smoke isn't the same as the smoke you may see billowing out of your small campfire, or even a bonfire. Wildfire smoke is not only the result of burning wood and plants, but also potentially from buildings and other manmade structures. This smoke is a mix of gases and particles that can easily aggravate your breathing if you were to inhale it.

Needless to say, fire season is a dangerous time of year that can lead to respiratory issues and even congestion. We're going to dive into how fire season impacts your nasal congestion and allergies, and how to keep your symptoms under control— even in the heat of fire season.

How Fire Season Irritates Your Sinuses

Wildfires burn over 7 million acres each year across the United States. The number of wildfires and the acres burned can vary from year to year, but their impact on the environment and the human toll they take are all the same.

The scorched earth and thick smoke are unsettling enough but if you're prone to allergies, fire season can add an additional layer of anxiety to this time of year.

The smoke, gasses, and particles stirred up as a result of fire season are all triggers for nonallergic rhinitis, or allergy symptoms without an apparent cause. These irritants trigger your body's response to allergens because they irritate your nose, lungs, and your airways. When your body detects these irritants, it essentially overreacts and pulls out all the stops to expel them from your body.

While this does work, it comes at the cost of making you miserable. Some familiar symptoms of nonallergic rhinitis include:

  • Sneezing or coughing
  • Nasal congestion (also known as a stuffy nose)
  • Runny nose
  • Postnasal drip
  • Reduced sense of smell

These may be even more familiar to you if you experience seasonal allergies, also known as hay fever. Nonallergic rhinitis shares some, but not all of hay fever's familiar symptoms.

How Does Wildfire Season Affect Allergies?

Remember, wildfire smoke isn't just a result of wood and plants burning. Wildfire smoke is essentially smoke and polluted air, containing both liquid and solid particles of irritants. These particles are so small that they can deeply penetrate some of your most sensitive tissue, like in your lungs and nose.

When these particles enter your airways, it can cause inflammation, allergies, and even infections. People with breathing conditions like asthma or COPD, or heart disease are especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke, as well as children, pregnant women, and responders fighting the fires. [1]

Allergies vs. Smoke Irritation: What's the Difference?

Inhaling pollutants from wildfire smoke not only weakens your immune function and harms your lungs, but it can also make you more susceptible to respiratory infections, including COVID-19. However, it's important to distinguish between allergies triggered by smoky air and smoke irritation itself.

Allergy symptoms like a runny nose and congestion are your body's natural defenses against the irritants in smoke. If you live further away from a fire's source, all you may experience are allergy symptoms from breathing in the smoky air. However, if you live closer to the fire's source you may experience something more severe: smoke irritation. [2]

Smoke irritation can strike whether you've been outside for a few hours, or even a few seconds. Like your allergies, smoke irritation can make your nose run and your eyes itch, but it has its own distinctive symptoms you need to be aware of to keep yourself safe during fire season. 

They include:

  • Asthma attacks
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

The poor air quality caused by fires in your area can make day-to-day life an uphill battle, especially if you're in the middle of allergy season. Don't worry though, there are steps you can take to prevent the fire season from setting your sinuses ablaze.

5 Ways to Protect Your Sinuses During Wildfire Season

Enjoying the warm summer weather can be tricky if you live in areas that are prone to wildfires. Here are 5 of our tips to protect your sinuses are breathe easily, even in the middle of fire season.

1. Try SinuSonic

If you're already feeling stuffed up and congested, SinuSonic can help. If you’re especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke, it may even be a necessity.

Our unique device relieves nasal congestion with a combination of light acoustic vibration and gentle pressure, increasing motility in your sinuses and clearing out your system.

In fact, it's normal to need to blow your nose while you use the device. That shows that it's working!

2. Keep Track of Air Quality in Your Area

If you're in the thick of fire season, being aware of each day's air quality goes a long way towards protecting yourself from the smoky air.

You can check your area's air quality day by day on sites like AirNow, which rate your area's air quality on a scale of 0 to 400 and account for any pollutants in the air.

3. Stay Inside on Smoky Days

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself when smoke is in the air is to stay inside. Staying indoors minimizes your exposure to the irritants in smoky air and helps prevent allergy symptoms.

Other ways to protect yourself inside include:

  • Keep windows and doors closed
  • Use the air conditioner or fans to keep your home cool
  • Avoid burning candles or spraying aerosols— these add more irritants into the air
  • Use an air purifier or a vacuum with a HEPA filter to help remove allergens and irritants from the air

Related: Indoor Allergies? How to Allergy-Proof Your Home

4. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water can help relieve any symptoms you may already be experiencing. 

Staying hydrated keep your delicate mucus membranes moisturized, and helps thin out your mucus. Thinner mucus makes any coughing, sneezing, or nose blowing more productive, so more allergens leave your body at once.

Men need about 15.5 cups of water daily, while women need 11.5 cups daily. However, you can stay hydrated with more than just water; water-rich produce like watermelon and cucumbers, as well as drinks like milk, juice, and herbal tea can help you stay hydrated too.

5. Use a Humidifier

A humidifier adds some much-needed moisture into dry air. It also soothes irritated airways and helps soothe your allergy symptoms.

Don't Let Your Summer Plans Go Up in Smoke

It can be hard to enjoy your summer plans if the air is thick with smoke. However, there are steps you can take to protect airways from the irritants and pollutants in the air during fire season. All it takes is a little prevention.

Is summer lighting a fire in your sinuses? Try SinuSonic!

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  1. “Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Nov. 2022, 
  2. Cassata, Cathy. “Allergies, Covid-19, Wildfire Smoke Irritation: How Symptoms Differ.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 5 Oct. 2020,