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How does wildfire smoke impact us and is there a cumulative effect ?

There is more evidence on the short term effects of wildfire smoke exposure than for the long term effects.

That from Angela Yao, who is a Senior Scientist at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

But Yao says there is some evidence.

“When people are exposed during their pregnancy, things like lower birth weight was pretty consistent we found associated with exposure to wildfire smoke.  And there are some studies that found that exposure to wildfire smoke during certain stages of pregnancy were associated with increased possibility for the baby to be diagnosed with ear or respiration infections.”

Yao says some studies also suggest that there can be an impact on young infants when it comes to lung capacity.

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She says it found that they had reduced lung capacity when compared to infants that weren’t exposed to wildfire smoke.

In terms of a cumulative effect from wildfire smoke if people are exposed to it year after year, Yao says while there isn’t a lot of research on it.

“But it we take what we know about general air pollution, there is definitely a cumulative effect, so exposure to one year is likely less than exposure to four consecutive or many years.  We can sort of deduce that.”

Yao says there are a few new studies looking at the relationship between wildfire smoke exposure and lung cancer, but she says those results are not very conclusive so far, although she says it wouldn’t be a big surprise if it was true given what we know about air pollution from other sources such as traffic or industrial emissions.

Short term effects from wildfire smoke continue to be things like eye or throat irritation, or lung irritation, especially for those with pre-existing chronic conditions.

“For things such as asthma and COPD, the exposure to wildfire smoke can exacerbate those conditions, and also for people who have things like disease or diabetes it can also worsen their condition.”

Yao says even healthy adults should avoid wildfire smoke exposure.

“Being indoors is not necessarily enough, but being indoors with cleaner air is the key.  So in addition to being indoors we should also find ways to reduce the smoke concentration in our indoor environment by using either a portable or commercially available air cleaner, or a DIY air cleaner that you can make with a box fan and a furnace filter.”

Yao says she has been doing research in this field for more than 10 years now, but she says there is definitely more interest in it now given the current wildfire season.

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