Find Relief from Smoke-Induced Lung Irritation

Smoke filling forest area due to wildfire.

Though air pollution is nothing new, this past summer has seen more than its fair share of wildfires and their effects on air quality. Such conditions are hazardous for everyone. However, the increase in smoky air can cause respiratory irritation and inflammation, worsening symptoms for those with chronic lung conditions.

Even if you don’t live near an area experiencing wildfires, its smoke can significantly impact air quality far beyond the immediate vicinity of the fire. 

Major cities like New York City, for instance, saw (and continue to experience) smokey air and poor air quality due to the recent wildfires in western Canada.

The reason? 

Smoke particles can travel long distances, carried by wind and other weather patterns.¹ When it settles into a new area, it can trigger various symptoms, from itchy throat and dry cough to breathing difficulty and eye irritation. 

Why Does Wildfire Smoke Impact Air Quality?

Wildfires emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide, black carbon, brown carbon, and ozone precursors—all of which impact radiation, clouds, and climate.²

When inhaled, these pollutants can cause respiratory problems and other health issues. Therefore, it’s essential to stay aware of your area’s air quality during wildfire activity and follow appropriate measures to protect your health.

Middle-aged woman using the AQI app to check air quality in her area.

Air Quality Index (AQI) – What You Need To Know

In the United States, the Air Quality Index (AQI) measures the pollution level in a specific area by analyzing the concentration of pollutants in the air, such as: 

  • Particulate matter
  • Ground-level ozone
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide

The AQI assigns a number on a scale from 0 to 500, with higher numbers indicating lower air quality.³ 

  • An AQI of less than 50 is considered good.
  • An AQI of 50-100 is considered moderate.
  • AQI values of 100 or greater are considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, while values above 150 are considered unhealthy for everyone. 
  • An AQI of 300 or above is considered hazardous.

You can check the AQI in your area to determine if the air quality is safe for your respiratory health.

Understanding Smoke-Induced Lung Irritation

Smoke-induced lung irritation occurs when the respiratory system is exposed to smoke particles, resulting in irritation that triggers airway inflammation. These particles can come from various sources—not just wildfires. 

When inhaled, the particles could also cause respiratory distress and exacerbate preexisting chronic lung conditions, such as 

  • Bronchiectasis
  • Asthma
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)4

Symptoms to Watch Out For

Common signs of lung irritation due to smoke exposure may include5:

  • Itchy throat: Breathing in polluted air can irritate the delicate tissues in the throat, causing inflammation. This can result in a persistent itching sensation that is difficult to ignore. Additionally, pollutants in the air can trigger allergies and asthma, which can cause an itchy throat and cough.
  • Coughing: Persistent coughing, especially when accompanied by phlegm or chest discomfort, may be a sign of lung irritation caused by smoke.
  • Shortness of breath: Difficulty breathing or a feeling of breathlessness, even during light physical activity, can also indicate that your lungs are affected by smoke particles.
  • Wheezing: A high-pitched whistling sound when breathing may suggest a narrowing of the airways due to smoke exposure that triggers inflammation.
  • Chest tightness: A sensation of pressure or tightness in the chest can indicate lung irritation.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to take action to protect your respiratory health and seek relief.

Home Remedies for Relief 

When finding relief from smoke-induced lung irritation, a few simple home remedies may help alleviate symptoms. 

Note, it’s important to speak to your doctor if you’re experiencing smoke-induced lung irritation to ensure you follow the right treatment plan to reduce symptoms and prevent permanent damage from developing—whether or not you have a preexisting condition.

Here are a few at-home remedies that may help reduce inflammation, soothe the airways, and improve overall respiratory function. 

Steam inhalation

Breathing in warm, moist air can help soothe the airways and reduce inflammation.6 

  • Fill a bowl with hot water, and place a towel over your head.
  • Inhale the steam for about 10 minutes. 
  • You can also add a few drops of essential oils, such as eucalyptus or peppermint, to enhance the benefits.

Saltwater gargles

Gargling with warm salt water can help reduce throat inflammation and alleviate an itchy throat and dry cough.7 

  • Dissolve half a teaspoon of salt in a glass of warm water
  • Gargle for a few seconds and then spit it out. 
  • Repeat several times a day for relief.

A freshly brewed pot of hot tea and lemon.Herbal teas

Certain herbal teas, such as chamomile or ginger tea, have anti-inflammatory properties and can help soothe irritated airways.8 

  • Ask your doctor if it’s okay to drink a cup of herbal tea daily to promote respiratory health.

Honey and lemon

Combining honey and lemon can help soothe coughs and reduce itchy throat and irritation caused by smoke exposure.9

  • Mix a tablespoon of honey and the juice of half a lemon in a glass of warm water.


Water pouring into a drinking glass.When exposed to smoke, the respiratory system can become dehydrated, leading to increased inflammation and irritation. By drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day, you can help keep your airways moist and prevent dryness.

In addition to water, consuming foods with high water content, such as fruits and vegetables, can also contribute to your hydration levels. 

Finally, avoid excessive consumption of dehydrating beverages, such as alcohol and caffeinated drinks, as they can worsen dehydration and lung irritation. 

Remember to Clear the Air (Inside Your Lungs)

Because the body’s natural response to lung irritation is to produce more mucus, it can worsen symptoms. The smoke can dry out the throat, causing an itchy throat and dry cough that cannot break up mucus effectively. 

If you have a chronic lung condition, it’s important to continue performing airway clearance therapy, in addition to these home remedies, as it helps remove mucus and other irritants from your lungs, helping to reduce the onset of respiratory infections and helping you to breathe easier.

Airway clearance via high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) therapy can help manage symptoms and avoid flare-ups. 

Request a Call with a Respiratory Therapist to learn more!

Avoiding smoke and minimizing exposure

While it may not always be possible to completely avoid smoke, there are steps you can take to minimize your exposure and protect your respiratory health. Here are a few strategies to consider:

Monitor your area’s AQI

Make it a daily habit to check your local AQI to ensure it’s safe to venture outside.

Stay indoors

When smoke levels are high, and air quality is low, it’s best to stay inside the home and keep the windows and doors closed. Consider using a quality air purifier to maintain a clean, smoke-free indoor environment.10

Keep windows closed

Be sure your windows are closed and there are no incoming drafts to reduce smoke exposure.

Create an action plan

Collaborate with your clinician to create an air quality action plan that includes appropriate therapy, medication, and treatment.

SmartVest user turning on Clearway device to begin therapy.

Need a Smart Solution to Airway Clearance?

Discover The SmartVest Airway Clearance System, a convenient, comfortable11 approach to airway clearance. SmartVest helps to break the cycle of mucus buildup, inflammation, and infection.

By delivering 360° chest coverage, SmartVest has been proven to reduce flare-ups requiring hospitalization, decrease antibiotic usage, and stabilize lung function.12 

To learn more about the life-changing benefits of using SmartVest, schedule a time to chat with our Respiratory Therapists or request an information packet today!


[1] United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “Challenges in Predicting Smoke Concentrations.” Retrieved from

[2] NOAA Chemical Sciences Laboratory. “The Impact of Wildfires on Climate and Air Quality.” Retrieved from

[3] AirNow. “Air Quality Index (AQI) Basics.” Retrieved from

[4] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Wildfire Smoke.” Retrieved from 

[5] Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Wildfire Smoke.” Retrieved from

[6] Medical News Today. “What Can I Do To Make My Cough Go Away Naturally.” Retrieved from

[7] Medical News Today. “What Can I Do To Make My Cough Go Away Naturally.” Retrieved from

[8] Medical News Today. “What Can I Do To Make My Cough Go Away Naturally.” Retrieved from

 [9] Medical News Today. “Lemon, Honey, and Alcohol: Which Is Best for Sore Throat?” Retrieved from

[10] Cleveland Clinic. “Can Air Purifiers Improve Your Lung and Heart Health?” Retrieved from

[11] Pokorney J. Comparison of Oscillatory Trough Pressure Generated by High Frequency Chest Wall Oscillation (HFCWO) Systems: A White Paper.

[12] Powner J, Nesmith A, Kirkpatrick DP, Nichols JK, Bermingham B, Solomon GM. Employment of an algorithm of care including chest physiotherapy results in reduced hospitalizations and stability of lung function in bronchiectasis. BMC Pulm Med. 2019;19(1):82. Published 2019 Apr 25.