Is Wildfire Smoke Exposure Possibly A COVID Risk?
The smoke from wildfires can cause irritation and inflammation in your lungs and affect your immune system, which together can make you more prone to COVID and other lung infections, so it is best to be extra careful to avoid inhalation of smoke. Children, pregnant women and those with chronic lung diseases such as asthma and COPD or heart disease should be especially cautious about breathing wildfire smoke. Smoke inhalation can cause coughing, difficulty breathing, wheezing, asthma attacks, stinging eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat and headaches. Some of these symptoms are similar to those of COVID so it’s best to avoid smoke to avoid confusion, but also the risk of more severe symptoms from COVID is likely if your lungs are irritated or inflamed from smoke inhalation.
Some tips to reduce smoke exposure:
- Avoid being outside whenever possible and do not do exercise outdoor (or at least choose lower intensity activities) until the smoke has cleared and the air quality improved (you can check your local air quality at baaqmd.gov or airnow.com).
- Keep the windows to your home or office closed and use air conditioning if necessary to keep you cool (A/C units generally do not pull outside air into the home).
- If you have one, use a portable air cleaner or filter to remove any smoke from inside your home or office.
- Avoid using candles, gas stoves or anything that can add more particulate matter into the air and do not vacuum as that may stir up particles already in your home.
- If you need to drive, roll up the windows and use the “recirculate air” feature to avoid pulling outside air into the car
- Be prepared to evacuate should the air quality become dangerous for you or loved ones (or of course if public authorities recommend it for your safety).
You may also wonder if your face covering or mask can protect you from the smoke and the answer is unfortunately “no.” While they are certainly better than nothing, most non-medical masks cannot catch small enough particles to protect you from wildfire smoke, so again, it is best to avoid being outside when possible. If you already have an N-95 mask that is well-fitted, that will prevent the particulate matter from smoke from entering your nose and mouth, but keep in mind they may still be in short supply given the pandemic. Read more here
(Jackie Phillips, MD, August 17, 2020).