Wildfires Worse For COVID-19, Asthma and Allergies

Early research shows more COVID-19 cases and more deaths in areas with poor air quality.
Posted at 5:15 PM, Sep 03, 2020

Add it to the list of COVID-19 risk factors: wildfires. Some early research shows more coronavirus cases and more deaths in areas with poor air quality.

That's causing some major concerns for people like Laura Paolasso in Thorton, Colorado. She already deals with allergies and asthma each day. 

"The air quality and the wildfire has impacted that greatly. Usually I take a hit off my inhaler once at night just to kind of get through the night. But now I'm on two different steroids and I use my rescue inhaler at least eight times a day," she told Newsy.

ER doc Katie Sprinkle says recent wildfires have led to an increase in patients with symptoms like cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, chest pain, and dry eyes. It’s not just allergies and asthma. Wildfire can be harmful for those recovering from COVID-19. 

"There's also some studies coming out saying that in areas with higher levels of air pollution, we see more COVID cases and more deaths. That said, the studies aren't peer reviewed yet," Sprinkle, an ER Physician at the Medical Center of Aurora said.

Sprinkle says that wildfire smoke exposure increases your susceptibility to viruses too, meaning those exposed are at higher risk of getting COVID-19.

Wildfire seasons are lasting longer too. UC Davis California based wildfire researcher Keith Bein tells Newsy this year's season is off to an early start.

"We've been saying it for a while. Look for this to come. Increased fire activity, a quicker start to the fire season, a longer fire season, more intense fires," he told Newsy. 

"Longer-term smoke exposure, meaning breathing in smoke for weeks or even months, certainly raises the risk of lung damages and can contribute to cardiovascular disease risk also," Sprinkle said.

Doctors say this complicates things more for patients like Laura. So much COVID-19 guidance has encouraged opening windows, or spending time outside. But when the air quality is poor with a lot of particulate matter from wildfire smoke, that’s not ideal. 

"Most of the time, I just had to stay inside and make sure medicated," she said.

One resource doctors say can help is You can type in your ZIP code, get air quality data for your location, plus recommendations for inside versus outside and at-risk populations.