As the climate warms, more devastating wildfires are raging across the West and filling the air with toxic smoke.

“The smoke itself is composed of hundreds of toxins. Predominantly, though, the smoke consists of particulate matter that is very, very small – 2.5 microns or less,” says Mary Prunicki of the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy and Asthma Research at Stanford University. “And the reason this is so dangerous is that particulate matter of that size, when it’s inhaled, it can go all the way to the base of your lung and cross over into the bloodstream and then wreak havoc in many different ways throughout the body.”

Prunicki says children are especially at risk because their bodies are still developing. They also tend to be more physically active than adults, so they may inhale smoky air deeper into their lungs.

So she recommends that parents monitor air quality and keep their kids inside when the air is polluted.

“And certainly, if a child has any type of respiratory disorder, make sure you have a prescription refilled and on hand if they should need an inhaler or something like that in the moment,” Prunicki says.

She says these precautions can help keep kids safer as wildfire seasons get more extreme.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media and Diana Madson