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What health effects can occur from breathing smoke?


Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood, organic, and man-made matter burn. The biggest health threat from smoke comes from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems. Smoke can irritate the eyes and airways, causing coughing, a scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, stinging eyes or a runny nose.

If you have heart or lung disease, smoke might make your symptoms worse. People with heart disease might experience:

  • chest pain,
  • palpitations,
  • shortness of breath, or
  • fatigue.

People with lung disease may not be able to breathe as deeply or as vigorously as usual, and they may experience symptoms such as:

  • coughing,
  • phlegm,
  • chest discomfort,
  • wheezing, and
  • shortness of breath.

Children also are more susceptible to smoke for several reasons: their respiratory systems are still developing; they breathe more air (and air pollution) per pound of body weight than adults; and they're more likely to be active outdoors.

When smoke levels are high enough, even healthy people may experience some of these symptoms. Common health effects, such as minor irritation, may not require a visit to your doctor. But, you should seek medical attention immediately if you experience more serious symptoms like those listed above.

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Last Updated: 11/01/2007
Last Reviewed: 04/18/2008