Health Impacts of Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke

Temperatures across the province are increasing.

As temperatures across the province increase, tenants 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.

There are ways to keep tenants safe. 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
  • Wildfire Smoke
  • Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke
  • Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19
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Extreme Heat

Extreme Heat Health Impacts

Extreme heat can cause heat-related illnesses, which are the result of your body heating up faster than it can cool itself down. It can lead to weakness, disorientation and exhaustion. In severe cases, it can lead to heat stroke or death.

Signs and Symptoms

The HealthLink BC’s Beat the Heat page and the CDC 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.

Who’s at Risk for Heat-Related Illnesses

Everyone is at risk of heat-related illnesses during extreme temperatures. Social housing tenants and those experiencing homelessness are at increased risk because they often have fewer resources.

Some high-risk groups 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

Resources for Heat Related Illnesses

Wildfire Smoke

Wildfire Smoke Health Impacts

Poor air quality due to wildfire smoke can cause shortness of breath, lung irritation, fatigue and eye irritation. In extreme situations it can trigger asthma attacks, anxiety, lower birth weights, and a decrease in quality of life.

Stay indoors and close windows and doors during poor air quality to prevent these symptoms. Call 9-1-1 if someone is having trouble breathing or having an asthma attack that does not respond to an inhaler.

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.

It recommended to stay indoors for as long as possible by running fans, creating a cooling room, or going to a community cool-air shelter. Housing providers should consider creating a cooling space, within a building, if possible.

Exposure to Wildfire Smoke & COVID-19

Exposure to air pollution can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, and alter immune function, making it more difficult to fight respiratory infections such as COVID-19.

Exposure to wildfire smoke and COVID-19 can both cause respiratory symptoms such as a dry cough, sore throat, or difficulty breathing. Anyone experiencing severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, or chest pain should call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest Emergency Department.

Anyone who have other risk factors can be more susceptible to both wildfire smoke and COVID-19. This includes anyone with a pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease (ILD), or lung cancer.

Anyone who is taking chemotherapy or drugs that suppress the immune system is also at risk. Wildfire smoke exposure and its' health effects is a concern for pregnant women, infants, children, older people and socially marginalized people.

Resources for Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19

Anyone with mild symptoms, should use the BC COVID-19 Self-Assessment Tool to see if further assessment is needed. Contact your healthcare provider or call 8-1-1 for questions about the tool.

For more information visit:

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