Wildfire smoke may not only be choking people’s lungs. It could also be irritating their skin, according to a new UCSF and UC Berkeley study published in JAMA Dermatology.
Tiny particles floating in wildfire smoke can wreak havoc on the body, and it’s well documented that pollutants can trigger a scratchy throat, coughing fits or even a heart attack. Exposure to air pollutants contributed to 3.7 million to 4.8 million deaths across the globe in 2015.
Previous research has found that skin conditions like eczema may be exacerbated by cigarette smoke or heavy air pollution in dense cities. Smoky days may also cause the skin to flare up.
“Wildfires cause particulate matter to circulate in the air which could settle on the skin, similarly to other airborne irritants,” Dr. Dawn Marie Davis, a professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic, said in an email. “The skin may be negatively impacted by exposure to wildfire smoke.”
Researchers who conducted the new study analyzed data from more than 8,000 patient visits to dermatology clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area over a two-week period in 2018, when the Camp Fire scorched Butte County and the number of patients seeking medical treatment for itchy skin significantly increased. Adult visits went up 20% and pediatric visits nearly 90% compared to the same period in earlier years. Scientists also noted an increase in prescribed medications, like steroids, suggesting patients experienced severe reactions.