Back to Top Skip to main content

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

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...

WWII soldier and his wife receive COVID-19 vaccine

Military personnel wearing a mask, giving the COVID-19 vaccine to a veteran wearing a mask

Beck’s arrival signals a new phase of Fort Carson’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts for TRICARE beneficiaries 75 and older.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Is It Your Time to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

This graphic informs TRICARE beneficiaries which tier they fall into as their local military treatment facility or clinic offers the vaccine.

This Infographic informs TRICARE beneficiaries which tier they fall into as their local military treatment facility or clinic offers the vaccine.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

DoD COVID-19 Practice Management Guide Version 7

Technical Document

This Practice Management Guide does not supersede DoD Policy. It is based upon the best information available at the time of publication. It is designed to provide information and assist decision making. It is not intended to define a standard of care and should not be construed as one. Neither should it be interpreted as prescribing an exclusive course of management. It was developed by experts in this field. Variations in practice will inevitably and appropriately occur when clinicians take into account the needs of individual patients, available resources, and limitations unique to an institution or type of practice. Every healthcare professional making use of this guideline is responsible for evaluating the appropriateness of applying it in the setting of any particular clinical situation. The Practice Management Guide is not intended to represent TRICARE policy. Further, inclusion of recommendations for specific testing and/or therapeutic interventions within this guide does not guarantee coverage of civilian sector care. Additional information on current TRICARE benefits may be found at or by contacting your regional TRICARE Managed Care Support Contractor.

Recommended Content:


Army Recruiter volunteers to administer COVID-19 vaccination

Military health personnel wearing a face mask giving someone the COVID-19 Vaccine

Army Master Sgt. Carolyn Lange has kept up her skills as a licensed practical nurse by administering COVID-19 vaccines on Fort George G. Meade in Maryland

Recommended Content:

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

COVID-19: DOD vaccinates more than 1 million beneficiaries worldwide

Military personnel wearing face mask standing in line to receive their COVID-19 Vaccine

As DOD surpasses the administration of 1 million COVID-19 vaccine shots in arms, leaders reflect on how each military treatment facility community made the success possible, despite challenges.

Recommended Content:

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

DOD officials provide COVID-19 response update

Military personnel wearing a face mask handling prescription refills at a pharmacy

DoD officials present update on COVID-19 response efforts

Recommended Content:

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

Cardiovascular providers counter pandemic-induced sedentary lifestyle

Military health personnel sticking an IV in a patient's arm

COVID-19 fears likely affecting cardiovascular care but not at military medical treatment facilities.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Heart Health | Medical and Dental Preventive Care Fitness | February Toolkit | Preventing Heart Disease

Secretary of Defense Video to the Force on COVID-19 Vaccinations

Image of soldier looking through COVID vaccine information laid out on a table

The Secretary of Defense addressed the entire workforce to encourage informed decision-making with regards to coronavirus-19 vaccination.

Recommended Content:

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

Trained military personnel ready to help with COVID-19 vaccinations

Military health personnel wearing a mask giving the COVID-19 vaccine to a man who is also wearing a face mask

Military prepped and ready to help with civilian COVID-19 mass vaccinations

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Immunizations

DOD participates in new COVID-19 antibody combination prevention trial

Woman gets blood drawn

Five DoD sites across the United States will be part of the STORM CHASER trial, a study to observe the efficacy of a long-lasting antibody product to prevent COVID-19 among people who have been exposed to others suffering from the disease.

Recommended Content:

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

Marines, Sailors with PHIBRON 11, 31st MEU receive COVID-19 vaccine

Military health personnel giving the COVID-19 Vaccine to military personnel

Vaccination for service members is voluntary, as vaccines are currently authorized for emergency use.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Immunization Healthcare | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

USU cohort study investigates COVID-19 impacts on DOD personnel

Military health personnel wearing a mask and a face shield holding up a sign that has the number eighteen on it

USU is conducting a study to better understand the symptoms and course of COVID-19 disease and identify risk factors in the military population.

Recommended Content:

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

COVID-19, Influenza provide twice the challenge to healthcare workers

Military personnel wearing a face mask while holding hand sanitizer

The ongoing pandemic outbreak has overlapped with the annual Northern Hemisphere influenza season.

Recommended Content:

Influenza Vaccine Availability | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 vaccine does not affect fertility, immunization experts say

Black and white photo of a couple holding hands

COVID-19 vaccination when pregnant or breastfeeding shows no harm, immunologists weigh in.

Recommended Content:

Women's Health | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

DHA IT helps beneficiaries, providers and workforce through pandemic

Several military personnel, wearing masks, filling out paperwork. One woman is giving the thumbs up sign

DHA IT Teams Deliver Innovative Solutions During Pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Technology | Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 49

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.