Researchers say the impacts may be more harmful than those caused by industrial air pollutants.
As wildfires increase in frequency and impact on air quality, they may also cause or exacerbate skin conditions, according to a press release1 from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Annual Meeting.
“The health impact of air pollution from wildfires has not been well studied, but the evidence from our recent studies suggest that short-term wildfire air pollution can affect the skin and causes flares of certain skin disorders,” said Maria Wei, MD, PhD, FAAD, in the press release.
According to Wei, recent studies have shown that California wildfires, and the air pollution resulting from them, led a significant number of Californians to seek dermatologic treatment. Inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis were among the most common.
Researchers found that patients with these conditions sought treatment at different times and at different rates. In fact, people who had not previously been diagnosed with either of these conditions also sought care.
Patients with atopic dermatitis more commonly made visits to their dermatologists during wildfires. Additionally, dermatologists prescribed these patients oral or injectable treatments at a statistically significant and increasing rate.
Patients with psoriasis were more likely to seek dermatologic care in the weeks after the wildfires, specifically at the 5 to 9 week mark.
“This difference in timing may suggest that there are differences in how air pollution triggers flares for eczema compared to psoriasis,” Wei said.
Researchers also noted differences in the wildfires’ impacts on patients of varying ages. Children and adults ages 65 and older with atopic dermatitis, and adults with psoriasis, sought treatment at an increased rate. Children with diagnosed psoriasis did not.
Even factors such as proximity may impact skin conditions and flares.
“One of the interesting things that we discovered is that wildfire air pollution can affect communities quite a distance from where the fires originate,” Wei said. “The two fires we studied were 50 miles and 175 miles away from San Fransisco, where the studies’ patient population was located.”
However, Wei said these wildfire study results align with an idea presented by existing research.
“These results are consistent with studies indicating that air pollution from wildfires can be more toxic than air pollution caused by traditional industrial and traffic sources,” she said. “As wildfires increase, we might see an influx in the number of people seeking care for pollution-related skin conditions.”