Leaf burning poses hazard for kids

We’ve had some beautiful fall days lately and of course, living in Wisconsin, we’re never sure how many more of those we’ll get before the snow falls. These days are a popular time for bonfires and leaf burning, and in some communities they are very commonplace. They also can be dangerous to your child’s health.

Burning wood and other yard waste releases harmful particles into the air. These particles are too tiny to see, but they have the ability to travel into the deepest parts of your lungs. Just like cigarette smoke, the smoke from wood and leaves can cause irritation to the lungs, eyes, nose and throat.

Your kids may complain of chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, burning eyes, a runny nose or sore throat. These symptoms can last for days after exposure to the smoke. If a child has asthma, symptoms may get worse, and he or she may even have an asthma attack. Children and individuals with underlying medical problems like asthma and allergies are the first to feel the effects of smoke, and are at the greatest risk for problems.

Here’s what you can do to protect your child’s health:

  • Avoid or minimize exposure to bonfires and leaf burning. If your child can’t stay indoors, protect him or her with a mask or a scarf over the nose and mouth.
  • If your child has asthma, make sure you have his or her rescue medications, usually an inhaler, readily available.
  • If your child has an underlying medical condition make sure he or she is taking the medications as prescribed by your doctor.
  • If your child has been exposed to smoke and is having trouble breathing, seek medical care immediately.

If you are burning to dispose of yard waste, please consider checking into alternate methods of yard waste disposal like mulching.
And, as always, take proper safety precautions to prevent burns.

Lauren Donovan, MD, fellow, Pulmonary Clinic, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin