Smoke Triggers Headaches, Irritation; Long-Term Impacts Still Unknown

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By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

Fog has helped dissipate some of the wildfire smoke hanging over the Bay Area, but a Spare the Air alert has been extended through Friday as smoke is expected to linger for several more days.

All the smoke could be the reason why so many Bay Area residents are experiencing headaches, loss of focus and dehydration. These symptoms are commonly reported during periods of exposure to wildfire smoke.

"Some people do experience headache when there’s bad air quality, it’s a pretty well-known symptom and it may be from irritation," said Dr. John Balmes, Pulmonologist and UCSF Professor of Medicine.

Smoke can also have a dehydrating effect, which could explain chapped lips or sudden leg cramps.

"A single exposure can still have harmful effects and that’s also related to dose and duration. So the longer we have bad air quality from this set of fires, the more likely it is to cause people to have some short term effects," he explained.

Studies show that firefighters working on the frontlines are exposed to toxic gases like carbon monoxide and can face decreased lung capacity.

But the real question is how yearly exposure to wildfire exposure may impact people long term, which is still a question mark for doctors and researchers. "We just don’t have the data, but we’re worried that there will be such effects," Dr. Balmes said.

Effects like worsening asthma or heart disease.

While these fears are prevalent every fire season, on top of that, this year doctors worry that people will avoid or delay getting treatment they need because of the pandemic.