Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Wildfire smoke wreaks havoc on respiratory and immune systems

Picture of a military tent; an orange, smoky hue surrounds the tent and soldiers Smoke from wildfires blocks out the sun Aug. 19, 2020, at Fort Hunter Liggett. Soldiers from the California Army National Guard's 79th Infantry Brigade Combat Team dealt with a heat wave and heavy smoke from nearby wildfires during a warfighter exercise at the fort. (Photo by Maj. Jason Sweeney, Army National Guard.)

Recommended Content:

Public Health | Coronavirus | Disaster Prep Toolkit | Environmental Fitness

Across much of the Western United States, residents continue to endure the current wildfire season, which has firefighters battling nearly 100 large active wildfires that have already burned nearly 5 million acres.

And where there’s fire, there’s smoke that blanketed several western cities this week. This smoke has resulted in reduced air quality and contributed to a host of associated health risks that mirror COVID-19 symptoms.

For Pacific Northwest residents, the smoke from these fires and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have led to an increased the number of respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.

At Naval Hospital Bremerton, staff continue efforts to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Staff and beneficiaries there remain aware that prevailing winds have pushed wildfire smoke over more densely populated areas, which can cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing, and aggravate existing conditions.

“Staff and patients should do their best to avoid prolonged exposure to the smoke due to the fact that it can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs,” said Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Omar Garcia-Argueta, Internal Medicine & Specialty Clinics.

State and country health advisory alerts on diminished air quality have been posted and shared to alert local populations, with NHB also taking a lead to assess those in need.

“The smoke can exacerbate any existing underlying condition,” said Navy Cmdr. Robert Uniszkiewicz, NHB/NMRTC Bremerton COVID-19 lead and public health emergency officer, acknowledging that both COVID-19 and wildfire smoke can damage a person’s respiratory and immune systems.

The Washington State Emergency Management Division indicate those sensitive to wildfire smoke exposure include people with heart and lung disease, existing respiratory infections, diabetes, stroke survivors, infants, children, pregnant women, and people over 65 years of age.

“Patients and staff who will be impacted the most are those who have been diagnosed with cardio-respiratory diseases such as asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), pulmonary fibrosis, or heart disease,” explained Garcia-Argueta. “Asthma and COPD patients in particular should ensure that they are taking their maintenance medications as prescribed by their providers. Smoke may also impact pregnant women, the elderly population, and children. These patients and staff members should consult with their health care providers regarding specific precautions.”

“We realize that not everything is COVID-19 related, such as someone dealing with allergies, hay fever, and the flu. But there are definitely those who are more vulnerable than others,” Uniszkiewicz added.

One effective strategy being used at NHB to care for patients during the pandemic is the Drive-Through Screening and Triage process, which follows Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria.

Everyone— staff, patient, or visitor —who arrives on base goes through the same procedure. This is a best practice across the Military Health System and in the civilian network. The drive-thru is a safe and efficient way to effectively assess patients on their current health and wellness.

The COVID-19 screening process determines if a person in the previous 24 hours has had such symptoms as fever, cough (not allergy related), sore throat, shortness of breath/difficulty breathing, and/or loss of smell or taste.

Wildfire smoke is capable of producing harmful health effects from eye, nose, and throat irritation or headaches to more severe conditions like shortness of breath, dry cough, throat soreness, chest tightness, asthma attacks, and worsening existing chronic conditions.

Experts at NHB encourage anyone experiencing these symptoms to seek medical attention. They should also continue to follow CDC guidelines for stopping the spread of COVID-19, such as staying at least 6 feet from others; washing hands often, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home; avoiding touch the eyes, nose, or mouth; and covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the crook of an elbow.

Garcia-Argueta attests that the best recourse for avoiding wildfire smoke is to stay indoors.

“In order to prevent prolonged exposure to the wildfire smoke, one should plan to stay indoors and have both their windows and doors closed. Patients and staff members should also avoid engaging in strenuous physical activity outside and refrain from smoking,” Garcia-Argueta said.

“Our recommendation is to still wear cloth face coverings. There are going to be those who think the smoke is causing them to have trouble breathing with the air quality like it is, but they’re more susceptible to particles in the air due to being exposed to wildfire smoke,” explained Uniszkiewicz.

Garcia-Argueta also advocates basic steps for everyone to follow to protect their lungs, such as: stay indoors as much as possible; reduce strenuous activity; reduce other sources of indoor air pollution like vacuuming and frying meat; use HVAC systems to filter the air; when traveling in a vehicle, keep the windows closed, run the air conditioner and set air to ‘recirculate’ to reduce smoke.

Hot, dry conditions remain in the forecast for the region, which keeps the fire danger high. To breathe a sigh of relief, everyone should continue to heed sound medical advice from their providers and strive to keep the air around them clear.  

You also may be interested in...

Understanding and Coping with Natural and Human-made Disasters

Video
6/23/2021

Disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, and peacetime terrorist attacks, can negatively impact your psychological health. Learn how to manage your stress reactions.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness | Disaster Prep Toolkit

Army’s 773rd administers mobile COVID-19 testing during DEF21

Article
6/4/2021
Three military personnel, wearing masks and lab coats, pose for a picture in an Albanian lab.

Approximately 800 Army Reserve soldiers from the U.S. and Europe participated in DEFENDER-Europe 21.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Readiness Capabilities

Mental Health Panel Discusses Impact of COVID-19

Article
6/3/2021
Military personnel wearing face mask speaking on a panel

Walter Reed Bethesda hosts mental health panel to discuss the impacts of COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Mental Health Awareness Month | Coronavirus | Psychological Fitness

Based on data, MHS experts encourage vaccines for adolescents

Article
6/1/2021
Sister and brother smiling at each other

With the Pfizer vaccine approved for youth ages 12 to 15, MHS adolescents are lining up to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Children's Health | Vaccine Eligibility

“Shots in arms” – OPT planned & coordinated to meet COVID-19 mission

Article
5/28/2021
Military personnel sitting around a table talking

The Department of Defense’s COVID-19 Operational Planning Team has been the quiet force behind the DOD’s vaccination effort since November.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

VAX Facts: Which Vaccine is Right for Me?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins talks about the importance of getting the first vaccine available to you. Don't hold out for a certain brand; they're all safe and effective.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Facts: Breastfeeding after the COVID-19 Vaccine

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins encourages people who are breastfeeding to get the vaccine. Since the vaccine doesn't contain live virus, you can't pass COVID to your baby.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Facts: Do I Need the Vaccine if I Had COVID?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins talks about the importance of getting vaccinated even if you already had COVID. We're not sure how long natural immunity lasts, so getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

What is an mRNA vaccine?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins explains how mRNA vaccines work to protect you from COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Are mRNA vaccines safe?

Video
5/28/2021
DHA Seal

Dr. LC Collins explains the years of research and ongoing monitoring to show how mRNA vaccines are safe and effective.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | COVID-19 Vax Facts | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 Vaccination Card Second Shot

Infographic
5/27/2021
Graphic saying that keeping track of your vaccination card is important. Includes a helpful tips section, a link to www.tricare.mil/covidvaccine, and what to do when you didn’t get your vaccination card or don’t have a copy. The TRICARE logo is on the bottom right of the page.

Keep track of your vaccination card. Tips include keeping your card on you and taking a picture of it as a backup copy.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Costs and Documentation | Coronavirus

Adolescents ages 12 and older eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations

Article
5/27/2021
Son of military personnel receiving his COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer vaccine now authorized for children 12 and older.

Recommended Content:

Children's Health | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

Town Hall May 26 2021

Video
5/26/2021
Town Hall May 26 2021

RADM Anne Swap will discuss the National Capital Region's response to COVID-19

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | National Capital Region Market

COVID-19 Town Hall with RADM Anne M. Swap

Article
5/24/2021
MHS and Military OneSource NCR COVID-19 Town Hall with Rear Admiral Anne M. Swap, Director, National Capital Medical Directorate, Wednesday, May 26 at 11:50 a.m. ET

The purpose of this event is to inform National Capital Region (NCR) beneficiaries of DHA’s efforts with battling coronavirus (COVID-19) and encourage them to not delay care.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Adirim, Place laud DHA response to COVID-19 in briefing

Article
5/21/2021
Defense Health Agency Director Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald J. Place speaking at a press conference

Dr. Terry Adirim, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and Army Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Ronald J. Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, provided a COVID-19 update during a Pentagon press briefing.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 56

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.