How Wildfire Smoke Can Harm Your Health

How Wildfire Smoke Can Harm Your Health | Dr. Ali Ghahary

2020 has already been an incredibly difficult year for the world thanks to COVIF-19; and while the virus is still having a major impact on many lives as well as our economy, not to mention being ever-changing and oftentimes unpredictable, we also still, unfortunately, have other things to worry about – yes, even during a pandemic – such as the current wildfire situation that is happening across much of the West Coast – particularly in California, Oregon, and Washington, and the effects of those fires are being felt right here in British Columbia, with smoky conditions being seen across much of the Province. At one point this past weekend we were even ranked as having the worst air quality in the world. As you can imagine, these poor conditions along with making it look rather gloomy outside and visibility being difficult, can also be quite hazardous to our health – even more so for those with underlying medical conditions.

Below is further information as to what, exactly, makes wildfire smoke so perilous, who’s most at-risk, and what you can do to keep yourself and your family protected (and even your pets.)

When it comes to wildfire smoke in our Province, the thing that we worry about most is something known as fine particulate matter, which can get into your lungs and even into your blood. Breathing in particle pollution caused by wildfires can be extremely harmful to your health, as well as can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat (with symptoms such as coughing and wheezing, chest pain, runny nose, and headaches.) While some individuals may not find themselves to be affected by fine particulate matter, it can still do damage – especially, as mentioned, to those who already have an underlying condition, including the following:

• Individuals with heart disease
• Individuals with respiratory diseases (such as asthma or COPD)
• Older adults (such as the elderly)
• Babies and younger-aged children

If you happen to have pets, smoke can also be quite irritating to them in the same way that it can be irritating to us as humans (i.e. to their eyes and respiratory tract), and therefore should be closely monitored. If your animals are experiencing symptoms such as red or watery eyes, nasal discharge, reduced appetite or thirst, fatigue, weakness, disorientation, coughing, gagging, or are having trouble breathing, then you should contact your veterinarian’s office.

As for how you can protect yourself and your family from the effects of the smoke, you should do the following:

• Stay indoors
• Avoid any vigorous activity
• Keep windows and doors closed
• Run an air conditioner (ensuring it has a clean filter and is only recirculating indoor air)
• Use a portable air cleaner
• Avoid use of in/outdoor word-burning appliances, including fireplaces and candles

If you have asthma or COPD and are noticing the effects of the smoke, you should keep your rescue inhaler (or other inhalers you might use) on hand. If the symptoms you experience as a result of smoke become severe, you should contact your physician – and, as always, if you have trouble breathing, call 911.