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
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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.

Exposure to Wildfire Smoke

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.

Most health effects of wildfire smoke are transient, meaning that they will disappear as the air quality improves.

Who’s Most at Risk of Adverse Health Effects Due to Wildfire Smoke?

  • 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 exposure to wildfire smoke is the best way to protect your health. You can:

  • Use portable air cleaners
  • Visit places with filtered air (libraries, community centres, shopping malls)
  • Take it easy and drink lots of water

Resources for Wildfire Smoke

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.

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.

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