Expert Pitch
University of California San Diego Health

Abated Breath: From COVID-19 to Wildfire Smoke and Air Pollution, Multiple Factors Threaten Lung Health This Summer

As we continue to grapple with the global pandemic, rising summer temperatures and wildfire season pose new challenges to our lung health. A team of pulmonologists and researchers at UC San Diego Health offer a wide variety of expertise and advice for the upcoming months. 

Atul Malhotra, MD
Pulmonary and critical care physician and sleep specialist

Topics of Discussion

  • How COVID-19 impacts the lungs and the latest in treatment approaches
    • Importance of safety precautions – wearing masks, physical distancing and hand hygiene
  • The effect of wildfire smoke on lungs, especially in persons with underlying health conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease   

“To some extent, the masks worn to prevent the spread of COVID-19 can also protect the lungs from dangerous particles in wildfire smoke.” 

Praveen Akuthota, MD
Pulmonary and critical care physician and asthma specialist

Topics of Discussion

  • How COVID-19 affects those with asthma
  • How diminished air quality, such as wildfire smoke and allergens, can affect persons with asthma 

Angela Wang, MD

Topics of Discussion

  • Long-term effects of COVID-19
  • COVID-19 symptoms
  • COVID-19 risks of transmission (indoors vs. outdoors, types of exposures, number of individuals)
  • General lung health
    • Environmental exposures to smoke and indoor and outdoor air pollution negatively affect the size and health of children’s lungs and can result in susceptibility to lung disease in adulthood
    • Average human being takes about 1 million breaths a year 
    • We stop growing new lung tissue by our teens
    • Exercise promotes lung development and health  

“While people can and do recover from COVID-19, many experience persistent symptoms, such as shortness of breath, cough and fatigue. This will make it difficult for them to tolerate additional insults from wildfire smoke, excessive heat or other environmental exposures.” 

Laura Crotty Alexander, MD
Associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep at UC San Diego School of Medicine and staff physician at Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System

Topics of Discussion

  • How smoking of conventional tobacco and exposure to secondary smoke are known to cause many lung diseases and increase the risk of developing lung infections
  • How vaping and use of electronic cigarettes or electronic devices cause changes in the lungs and throughout the body, suggesting users will be at higher risk for developing severe forms of viral pneumonias, including influenza and COVID-19
  • How inhaling anything other than clean air will increase your risk of lung disease, including pneumonia. This includes inhalation of tobacco smoke, e-cigarette aerosols, dabbing (THC), wildfire smoke and air pollution. 

“Our strong recommendation is don’t smoke. Don’t vape. Don't expose members of your family or community to second-hand smoke or e-cigarette vapor. Also, be kind and thoughtful and wear a mask so you aren't exposing others to a potential infection you might have.” 

UC San Diego Health is nationally recognized for comprehensive care dedicated to treating complex lung diseases by highly specialized experts. Learn more at 

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