The hazards associated with wildfire smoke

Wildfire smoke blankets Rapid City.
Published: May. 22, 2023 at 5:13 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - If you went outside this weekend you probably noticed a thick layer of smoke hanging around in the sky. With the smoke predicted to stay around for a next few days many people may be wondering what health risks are associated with the smoke.

Despite what people may think, wildfire smoke in the air can impact people who don’t have asthma or other lung concerns.

“It’s huge, so with the increase in wildfires and the increase in pollutant levels what we see is in terms of a broader population. Increased air pollutants actually are exacerbating pollen allergies,” said Abigail Finley, an allergist with Rapid City Medical Center.

Finley says the smoke acts as an irritant, which flares up those allergies related to tree and flower pollen. People with asthma will notice more irritation in their throat and may use their inhalers more than normal. Finley says exposure to poor air quality has the potential to cause more health problems for people with asthma.

“We’re seeing more wildfire exposure. We’re seeing greater instances of exposure to the smoke over the years and we’re actually seeing it can worsen the progression of asthma into COPD,” said Finley.

COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung condition that causes people to have trouble breathing. Finley says the progression from asthma to COPD can be attributed to frequent exposure to wildfire smoke.

Finley says anyone with sensitivity to air pollution should avoid going outdoors as much as possible.