COVID-19 and Wildfire Smoke

New information continues to emerge regarding the health impacts associated with COVID-19 and wildfire smoke. Research shows that exposure to air pollutants like wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation and alter immune function, which can increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, likely including COVID-19. This page will be updated as more information becomes available.


Updated June 12, 2020

Summer air quality in Spokane can often be impacted by regional wildfires. This results in air pollution that is sometimes unhealthy for all. During times of poor air quality, Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) and Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency (Spokane Clean Air) urge residents to understand the health risks associated with wildfire smoke and take precautions to protect their health.


Where can I get the most up-to-date air quality data for Spokane County?

Current air quality information is provided by Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency and updated every hour.

Statewide air quality information is available at Washington Smoke Blog.


What is wildfire smoke and can it make me sick?

Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, building materials and other materials. Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, even someone who is healthy, if there is enough smoke in the air. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including the following:

Symptoms

Coughing

Trouble breathing normally

Stinging eyes

A scratchy throat

Runny nose

Irritated sinuses

Wheezing and shortness of breath

Chest pain

Headaches

An asthma attack

Tiredness

Fast heartbeat  


Are some people more sensitive to smoke than others?

While inhaling smoke isn't good for anyone, some people are especially sensitive and more likely to experience health problems related to wildfire smoke including the following:

  • Older adults over age 65. This is because they are more likely to have unrecognized heart or lung diseases.
  • Infants and children under 18. Their lungs and airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults.
  • Pregnant women. Both the mother and fetus are at increased risk of health effects.
  • People who smoke because they are more likely to already have lower lung function and lung diseases.

People with existing health conditions such as the following are also also more likely to experience health effects:

  • Lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including bronchitis and emphysema.
  • Respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, acute bronchitis, bronchiolitis, colds or flu.
  • Existing heart or circulatory problems, such as dysrhythmias, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease and angina.
  • Prior history of heart attack or stroke.
  • Diabetes because they are more likely to have an undiagnosed cardiovascular disease.

How are symptoms from wildfire smoke exposure different from symptoms of COVID-19?

Respiratory symptoms such as dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing are common symptoms of both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19. See how the symptoms compare below. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, get medical attention as soon as possible by calling 911 or calling ahead to the nearest emergency medical facility.

Wildfire Smoke*
COVID-19**

Cough

Trouble breathing

Wheezing

Asthma attacks

Singing eyes

Scratchy throat

Runny nose

Irritated sinuses

Headache

Tiredness

Chest pain

Fast heartbeat

Exacerbation of lung, heart and circulatory conditions***

Cough

Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Fever

Chills

Muscle Pain

Sore throat

Congestion or runny nose****

Headache

Fatigue****

New loss of taste or smell

Less common: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
** Washington State Dept. of Health Novel Coronavirus Frequently Asked Questions
*** Washington State Dept. of Health Smoke From Fires
**** Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Symptoms of Coronavirus



How can I limit my exposure to wildfire smoke?

  • When a wildfire occurs in your area, watch for local news or health warnings about smoke and air quality. Pay attention to local air quality reports and public health messages and take extra safety measures such as avoiding time outdoors.
  • If it is recommended you stay indoors, keep your indoor air as clean as possible. Close windows and doors unless it is very hot outside. Run an air conditioner if you have one but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
  • Reduce indoor pollution as much as possible when smoke levels are high. Limit use of anything that burns, such as candles and fireplaces. Do not smoke tobacco or other products. Limit activities such as vacuuming, dusting and sweeping, that stir up particulates in your home. Avoid using fragranced air fresheners, cleaners or essential oils, as they may trigger asthma or allergies. Reduce cooking, which creates heat and fine particles.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s advice about medications and respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease. Call your provider if symptoms worsen.

Is it safe for children or teens to participate in outdoor recreation when air quality is poor?

Populations at increased risk for severe respiratory problems from wildfire smoke include children and adolescents, especially when active. Children under the age of six are most at risk for experiencing severe respiratory problems from wildfire smoke. When air quality conditions deteriorate into "unhealthy" ranges, the best thing to do is limit outdoor exposure.

Guidance for Air Pollution and School Activities / Outdoor Sport Events


The building I work in smells smoky. What can or should I do?

If there are concerns about indoor air quality in the workplace, check with your employer about keeping the air inside as clean as possible. The windows and doors should be kept closed. The building air conditioner should be used with the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.


Resources:

Local

Spokane Regional Health District Guidance for Air Pollution and School Activities/Outdoor Sport Events
Spokane Regional Clean Air Is the Air Safe Infographic

State

Washington State Department of Health Smoke from Wildfires Toolkit
Washington State Department of Health Smoke from Fires

National

United States Department of Agriculture Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19 FAQ
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wildfires Page Ready.gov - Wildfires Page
United States Environmental Protection Agency Smoke-Ready Toolbox for Wildfires