Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke Health Impacts

Temperatures across the province are increasing.

As temperatures across the province increase, tenants/clients may be at risk for heat- and wildfire smoke- related illnesses. The current COVID-19 pandemic may increase the danger. These risks can be harmful for vulnerable people.

This section provides information about potential health impacts and symptoms, who’s most at risk and suggestions on how to respond under the following scenarios:

 

Extreme Heat

Extreme heat can cause illness when your body heats up faster than it can cool itself down. This can lead to weakness, disorientation, and exhaustion. For those who experience additional risk factors, this can lead to heat stroke or death. Indoor environments without air conditioning can become dangerously hot as temperatures increase day-over-day. Indoor environments may be most dangerous overnight, particularly for individuals who live alone. 

Signs and Symptoms

HealthLink BC’s Beat the Heat page and the CDC's heat-related illness graphic describe signs, symptoms and what to do if you think someone is suffering from a heat-related illness. 

Review the Heat-Related Illness Factsheet to identify what symptoms to look for and what to do.

When to Seek Help 

Emergency first aid for heatstroke is needed immediately because this condition is life-threatening. After calling 911 or other emergency medical services and follow the steps detailed here.

Risk Factors for Heat-Related Illnesses

Everyone is at risk of heat-related illness during extremely high temperatures. However, those who are particularly vulnerable include: 

  • People over 65 years
  • Infants and young children
  • People who are pregnant
  • People with chronic illnesses (such as breathing difficulties, heart conditions, or psychiatric illnesses)
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • People who work in the heat
  • People living alone
  • People living in high-rise apartments
  • People without access to air conditioning or fans
  • People who take certain common medications, which can increase heat sensitivity or reduce personal temperature regulation and perception

Reducing Extreme Heat Exposure 

If possible, access an air-conditioned space while indoors. If not possible, take steps to stay cool:

  • Wear wet clothing to help bring down body temperature
  • Use water-soaked cloths or cooling packs on neck/wrists
  • Sit in or put legs in cool (not cold) bath
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • Eat cold foods such as salads and fruits
  • If possible, make use of air conditioner units

Resources

Wildfire Smoke

Signs and Symptoms

Exposure to wildfire smoke or poor air quality due wildfire smoke combined with extreme heat can cause symptoms such as:

  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
  • Lung irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Eye irritation

Prolonged or extreme cases can lead to asthma attacks, and anxiety.

When to Seek Help

Anyone who experiences severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, should call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Department.

Risk Factors for Wildfire Smoke Exposure

People who are more vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposure include:

  • People with respiratory conditions and chronic lung/heart disease such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • People whose health is compromised by an illness or chronic condition such as cancer, diabetes, or mental illness
  • Older adults
  • Pregnant women
  • Infants and young children

Reducing Wildfire Smoke Exposure

During air quality warning, the following steps can help reduce risk: 

  • Limit outdoor activity
  • Increase water intake
  • If you have a chronic health condition, work with your healthcare providers to create a management plan for smoky conditions
  • Visit places with filtered air such as libraries, shopping malls, and community centers
  • Keep windows and doors closed (if extreme heat is not a concern)
  • Avoid activities that create more indoor and outdoor air pollution, such as frying foods, sweeping and vacuuming, and using gas-powered appliances
  • Use portable air purifiers (if available). Note: portable air cleaners work best when run continuously with doors and windows closed

Resources

For more information visit: http://www.bccdc.ca/health-info/prevention-public-health/wildfire-smoke

Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke

When an extreme heat event and a poor air quality event occur at the same time, cooling should be prioritized.

Recommendations:

  • Stay indoors for as long as possible by running fans
  • Create a cooling room or go to a community cool-air shelter
  • Housing providers should consider creating a cooling space, within a building, if possible
  • A cooling space can also act as a clean-air space, if a portable air filter is used in the space