Reynold Panettieri, a pulmonologist and vice chancellor for translational medicine and science director at Rutgers Institute for Translational Medicine, is available to comment on how smoke from the Western wildfires can affect the lungs and the steps people can take to stay safe.
“When inhaled, particulates, ozone and other combustible materials in smoke can cause lung damage. In most people without chronic conditions, high concentrations will result in an irritation of the upper airways, resulting in tearing eyes, coughing and mucus, which will go away when the irritant is avoided,” he says. “The smoke can exacerbate underlying conditions like asthma, COPD or pulmonary fibrosis. Most people who currently have or have recovered from Covid-19 will react similarly to a person without an underlying lung condition. However, those who were hospitalized with sustained symptoms or incurred significant lung injury are more at risk for increased damage from smoke exposure.”
Panettieri recommends that people in areas of exposure should stay indoors, keep windows closed and use air filters or run their air conditioners, which offer some air-filtering qualities. “If you must go outside, keep your car windows closed and wash your clothes when you get home as they can transmit the odors and toxins,” he says.