Wildfires, Air Quality, and Your Health

Wildfires, Air Quality, and Your Health | Dr. Ali Ghahary

With several wildfires burning across various parts of the Province, including a bog fire burning in Richmond, individuals living in or near these areas may have respiratory-related problems. Coupled with warmer than normal temperatures for this time of year and a fire danger rating of moderate to high for all of British Columbia, that may lead to things such as breathing difficulty and other health concerns. As a reminder, Dr. Ali Ghahary is pointing out the dangers that these wildfires can pose to your health, and what you can do to keep yourself protected.

When it comes to wildfires, the biggest concern for individuals, as mentioned, is air quality, and what it might do in terms of affecting your breathing. While smoke-filled air can be difficult for anyone to breathe in, those who may find it particularly bothersome are individuals with pre-existing conditions such as asthma and COPD, or other respiratory-related illness, as well as young children and seniors, and individuals who work outdoors. Wildfires and inhaling fine particles of smoke cannot only trigger these aforementioned conditions, but may also cause systemic inflammation.

If you do happen to have any of the aforementioned conditions, it’s important to pay attention to any change in your symptoms, as that could potentially be due to smoke inhalation/exposure. During air quality advisories, it’s also important to use common sense. For example, if the smell of the smoke is too intense or if breathing becomes difficult for you, avoid partaking in (or at least significantly reduce) physical activity. During air quality warnings/advisories, it’s also important to stay indoors. While smoke particles can still get inside your home, they will be significantly lower. Still, to avoid these particles from increasing, it’s a good idea to keep windows and doors shut and use things like fans, air conditioning, and HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters to stay cool. During this time, you should also reduce sources of indoor pollution, such as cigarette smoking, and make sure you drink plenty of water too. Air quality conditions can also change depending on elevation, so you should also consider moving somewhere that has cleaner air. Maintaining good overall health can also significantly reduce the negative way in which smoke can affect you. If you’ve tried most or all of these steps in effort to reduce your exposure to smoke but still find that your respiratory symptoms are persisting or worsening, Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends seeing your physician.

The respiratory system isn’t the only system that is affected by smoke, however, as it can also be harmful to the eyes – even to the healthiest of people. Exposure to smoke can cause eye irritation such as itching, burning, and redness. If you suffer from dry eye, these symptoms can be quite severe. In most cases, you can relieve these symptoms by applying cold compresses to the eyes, as well as using artificial tears (eye drops) that can be purchased over-the-counter at any pharmacy. Because smoke particles can float in the air for an extended period of time (even if it seems like the smoke has already cleared), it’s recommended that you also wear protective eyewear, such as sunglasses. If your eye irritation persists for more than a few days, it’s recommended that you see your physician or optometrist.

For more information on the current wildfire situation in the Province (including an interactive wildfire map), visit BCWildFire.ca.