Wednesday, June 26

One unexpected impact of wildfires: itchy, irritated skin

Does the smoke from wildfires aggravate eczema flare-ups and other skin conditions?

Are you dealing with itchy, irritated skin that you can't stop scratching? Or have you noticed that your child's eczema has suddenly gotten worse and is hard to manage? More and more evidence suggests that wildfires, which are becoming more intense and frequent, are making skin problems like eczema worse.

Are you struggling with itchy, irritated skin or worsening eczema? Wildfires, becoming more frequent and intense, are linked to increased skin problems like eczema flare-ups. Learn how air pollution from wildfires impacts your skin and discover effective tips to protect yourself. Understand eczema, its triggers, and why it's getting worse during summer. Get expert advice on managing eczema and maintaining healthy skin despite poor air quality. Visit AirNow.gov for real-time air quality updates and protect your skin with recommended practices.
Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn

What is eczema?

Eczema is a common, long-lasting skin condition that affects about one in 10 people in the US. It causes red, dry, and itchy patches of skin. The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis, which often runs in families and usually starts in childhood. In the northern hemisphere, it typically gets worse in the winter when the weather is cold and dry. However, experts are now seeing this pattern change. For example, at Massachusetts General Hospital, one dermatologist noticed a big increase in eczema flare-ups last summer.

Why is eczema getting worse during summer?

In 2023, Canada had over 6,000 wildfires that burned more than 16 million hectares of land — an area larger than the entire state of Georgia. Although the fires were far away, the smoke traveled across the US and more than 2,000 miles in Europe. The poor air quality from these distant wildfires caused eye and throat irritation and made it hard to breathe.

In Boston, Dr. Arianne Shadi Kourosh, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, also noticed skin problems. Usually, dermatology clinics would see fewer than 20 people during a summer month for eczema, including atopic dermatitis. Suddenly, that number jumped to 160. Her research showed that the number of visits for these skin complaints matched the level of air pollution. Other studies have also found more eczema and psoriasis flare-ups linked to wildfire pollution. But why is this happening?

Researchers think that pollutants in the air might trigger a series of reactions in the body by causing oxidative stress, which damages the skin and leads to inflammation. This process may also play a role in the development of eczema.

What can you do to protect your skin?

Air pollutants from wildfire smoke can harm many parts of your body, including your skin. So, when the air quality is bad due to wildfires, limiting your exposure can help reduce health risks. This is also true for industrial air pollution, but wildfire pollution might be worse because it has more toxic particles.

Here are some tips to protect your skin:

- Seek help if you're itching: If you think wildfire smoke or other air pollution is affecting your skin, check with a dermatologist or your healthcare provider.

- Check local air quality: AirNow.gov provides real-time local air quality information and activity guidance. When recommended, stay indoors if possible. Close doors, windows, and any outdoor air vents.

- Protect your skin: When you're outdoors, wear a mineral-based sunscreen containing zinc or titanium. These sunscreens form a barrier that reflects UV rays and reduces the amount of pollutant particles reaching your skin. Wearing sunscreen also protects against skin cancer.

- Wash up: After being outside, cleanse your skin and apply a hypoallergenic moisturizer to keep it healthy. If you have eczema, use cleansers and moisturizers recommended by your dermatologist or healthcare provider.

By following these tips, you can help protect your skin from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke and other air pollutants.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.
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