In this week’s blog post, we’re taking a look at the negative impacts of wildfire smoke on the human body. While the topic resides slightly outside of our normal content, our community in Portland is currently battling the challenges of wildfire smoke in our everyday lives. Due to countless fires burning up and down the entire West Coast, Portland, Salem, Bend and Eugene, Oregon have become engulfed in a thick, smoggy haze of wildfire smoke. Oregon recorded some of the worst air quality levels in the world over the past few weeks. Not only does the wildfire smoke mark a string of horrendous and tragic natural disasters, it can also leave negative and long-term health impacts on Oregonians.

For starters, wildfire smoke differs from pollution, which is caused by traffic or industry. Wildfire smoke is actually significantly more detrimental to human health. When wildfire smoke is inhaled, it makes it more challenging for the body to get adequate oxygen. The lack of oxygen can cause an immune response and increase inflammation throughout the body. It can also cause the mild reactions of eye irritation, runny nose, sore throat, mild cough, phlegm production, wheezy breathing and headache. Most of these symptoms can be managed without medical attention. The best remedy is to avoid exposure, drinking a lot of water and getting lots of rest. In more severe reactions, inhaling wildfire smoke may cause shortness of breath, severe cough, dizziness, chest pain or heart palpitations. These symptoms should be monitored more closely and may require medical attention.

Smoky air also adversely and greatly affects the elderly and infants. The elderly may experience worsened respiratory conditions and should be closely watched if they have a history of pneumonia. Infants can be greatly affected and smoky air can cause an increased likelihood of ear infections.

Besides avoiding exposure to smoky air, it is important to try to keep it out of your home too. Air purifiers and portable air cleaners with HEPA filtration systems can all help to remove smoke particles in indoor air. You may also find relief in public spaces like libraries, community centers or malls which often have more advanced air filtration systems. Although we’re still battling the COVID-19 pandemic in tandem to the wildfires, please remember to practice social distancing and wear masks. When driving, keep windows up and use the air conditioning with the recirculate setting. Lastly, the harder you breath, the more smoke you inhale so avoid exercising outside during these times and remember to drink as much water as possible.

The entire team at Kuether Brain & Spine wants to say thank you to the countless first responders, firefighters and volunteers who are working to contain and stop the wildfires.