To varying degrees, everyone. However, “The people who are at highest risk are those with respiratory conditions, including COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and people with asthma. Also feeling the impact are those with pulmonary fibrosis, allergies, sinusitis and heart disease,” Tiep explained from his home in Monrovia, California, where he and his family were poised to evacuate if necessary.
“There’s actually not much information directly available for cancer, but it is important to recognize that patients with any form of cancer, particularly lung cancer, are vulnerable to the inhalation of toxic smoke. This is mostly smoke from hillside vegetation that contains microparticles that can lodge deeply in the lungs and may remain a while. In addition, lung cancer patients often have other conditions like COPD and asthma, as well as cardiac conditions, which puts them at higher risk of complications from fire smoke.”
According to Tiep, smoke inhalation causes inflammation in the airways as well as other parts of the body, rendering patients with cancer at increased risk for complications. If they are currently receiving cancer treatments, inhaling smoke places them at higher risk for complications associated with those treatments. “Some treatments may have toxicities associated with them, so there is further risk associated with high levels of smoke exposure,” he said.
“Your lungs are constantly exposed to the outside air as you breathe. When inhaling dust, chemicals and particles, your lungs have built-in defenses that protect you from damage,” he said. “However, the amount of chemicals, toxins, pollutants and particulates released by these fires can easily overwhelm those defenses.” If your defenses are already stressed due to treatments like chemotherapy, you can be even more vulnerable.
Others at greatest risk of illness related to smoke inhalation according to Tiep “are people with heart disease, particularly congestive heart failure, as well as young people (children). Individuals over 65 may also have reduced ability to fight off the effects of chronic inflammation compared to younger, healthier persons.”