West Coast Wildfires Linked to Rise in Asthma, Strokes and Heart Attacks, Studies Show

by Jon D. B.
(Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

As a new wave of wildfires release smoke across the west, asthma attacks, strokes, and heart attacks are on the rise due to poor air quality.

The August Lightning Complex fires and their fallout led to beyond-hazardous air quality levels across California. Some plumes of smoke from the fires reached as far as 1,500 miles away in Kansas. Now, a series of studies are revealing the damage this smoke is wreaking on people’s health. Even those over a thousand miles away from the burning, like in Kansas, are being affected.

To make matters worse, the latest wave of wildfires are pushing smoke as far as the East Coast. During this crisis, the American Lung Association warns that “wildfire smoke can be extremely harmful to the lungs. Especially for children, older adults and those with asthma, COPD and bronchitis or a chronic heart disease or diabetes.”

MALIBU, CA (Photo Credit: David McNew/Getty Images)

According to the first study, released by the University of British Columbia, “within an hour of fire smoke hitting Vancouver, the number of ambulance calls for asthma, chronic lung disease and cardiac events spiked 10%.”

Likewise, The Guardian reports that California wildfires are “leading to an uptick in ailments from asthma and strokes to heart attacks and kidney problems”. In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, the smoke is creating a double-hazard for those at risk of these complications.

Pulling from a study on the horrific Australian Bushfires piles more evidence on. “417 extra deaths occurred during 19 weeks of smoky air, and 3,100 more hospital admissions for respiratory and cardiac ailments and 1,300 extra emergency room visits for asthma.”

Wildfire smoke is always an extreme health hazard

Even the most general of warnings from the CDC states that “wildfire smoke can make anyone sick. Even someone who is healthy can get sick if there is enough smoke in the air. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects.”

Symptoms from wildfire smoke to look out for, according to The health institute, include:

  • chest pain, tightness
  • asthma attacks
  • stinging eyes

The institute also advises “staying indoors and the use of air filters to minimize the risk”.

One asthma expert at Stanford, Dr. Mary Prunicki, told the Guardian that “pollution, in general, is going to make your immune system less healthy and its responses more chaotic. It requires a healthy immune system to fight infections like COVID-19. And, if your immune system isn’t working as well, it puts you at greater risk.”

Know your local air quality

SEATTLE, WA – SEPTEMBER 11: The Space Needle flies an American flag at half-mast in remembrance of the September 11. According to reports, air quality is expected to worsen as smoke from dozens of wildfires in forests of the Pacific Northwest and along the West Coast descends onto the region. (Photo credit: Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Smoke is made up of trillions of tiny particles. These particles, known as PM2.5 – have a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers. That’s more than one-hundred times thinner than a human hair. Since the particles are so small, they lodge deep into the lungs and cause severe damage.

As such, PM2.5 levels are used in part to measure the Air Quality Index. Even a small concentration of these particles warrants an air quality warning. For context: the Creek Fire pushed PM2.5 levels to a staggering 449 in Bishop, Calif., this past Sunday.

To stay safe and find the current PM2.5 levels in your area, visit www.AirNow.gov and enter your location. The Environmental Protection Agency’s site stays up-to-date 24-7.

{H/T SFGate]