Long COVID and Wildfire Smoke


During the Summer of 2023, Canadian wildfires negatively affected the air quality in the United States. These uncontrolled fires spread harmful smoke across large regions of the United States. Many long COVID patients reported worsening symptoms caused by wildfire smoke and other air pollution. Research highlights the relationship between poor air quality and long COVID. Keep reading further to understand the connection between long COVID and air quality.

How Does Wildfire Smoke Affect Air Quality?

Smoke from wildfires can degrade air quality, leading to serious health issues for people exposed to low-quality air. Gases and fine particles make up wildfire smoke, including inhalable particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and ground-level ozone. The makeup of wildfire smoke varies depending on many factors, such as the size and intensity of the fire, the materials ignited, and ventilation. Inhaling these smoke particles can be harmful, and the air quality index, or “AQI,” reflects the presence of these pollutants in the air. Long COVID patients can use the AQI to understand whether they are being exposed to wildfire smoke.

Wildfire smoke can carry particulate matter, PM2.5, deep into the lungs and bloodstream. It can cause health effects, including eye irritation, asthma symptoms, bronchitis, dyspnea, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Wildfire smoke can also cause hospitalization, adverse birth outcomes, cardiac arrest, and premature mortality. Long-term exposure to elevated PM2.5 levels can cause chronic lung diseases, reduced lung function, and increased mortality rates. Long COVID patients should be aware of these health risks associated with wildfire smoke.

Canadian wildfires have recently affected air quality in the United States. Smoke from these wildfires presents public health risks and adds cumulative lifetime health burdens. People with asthma, COPD, and other respiratory diseases are especially susceptible to wildfire smoke. Additionally, people with cardiovascular disease, children, pregnant people, older adults, outdoor workers, and people without homes are at heightened risk. This is due to age, current health status, occupation, and other socioeconomic factors. Many long COVID patients have cardiovascular and respiratory symptoms, making them sensitive to wildfire smoke’s health risks. Elderly and disabled COVID-19 survivors are also vulnerable.

What is the Relationship Between Long COVID and Air Quality?

Poor air quality can seriously impact people with long COVID. Research into the relationship between long COVID and air quality is ongoing, but preliminary data reveals how long COVID patients are especially sensitive to this issue.

Researchers studying air quality found that pre-pandemic, long-term exposure to PM2.5 raised the risk of developing long COVID. Among these patients, shortness of breath is the most common long COVID symptom. Further, PM2.5 exposure can alter a person’s sense of taste and smell. People with long COVID have reported worsening symptoms during wildfire outbreaks, similar to the experiences of individuals with asthma and COPD. Long COVID patients report worsened fatigue, cognitive function, and difficulty breathing, among other symptoms.

Genetic, epigenetic, and immunologic factors can trigger inflammation and hypersensitivity in response to environmental pollution, which may increase the prevalence of long COVID among vulnerable individuals. Ambient air pollution also triggers an inflammatory response, possibly contributing to long COVID symptoms. Alternatively, air pollution may impair the immune system and suppress it, increasing the risk of ongoing symptoms after a COVID-19 infection. The virulence of SARS-CoV-2 may also increase due to pollution in the environment.

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