Are Your Symptoms Due to Wildfire Smoke or COVID-19?
How to tell the difference and how to stay safe.
Smoke from major wildfires across Colorado and other Western states has lowered the air quality.
With a busy wildfire season comes the concern of health and safety with diminished air quality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued guidance for those living in areas affected by wildfires during the pandemic, like Northern Colorado. According to the CDC, the best way to protect against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is to:
- Reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke, for example, by seeking cleaner air shelters and cleaner air spaces.
- Limit your outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce your smoke exposure.
Know the difference between symptoms from smoke exposure and COVID-19
Some symptoms, like dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing can be caused by both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19. Symptoms like fever or chills, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea are not related to smoke exposure. Knowing the difference between symptoms from smoke exposure and COVID-19 can help your AFM provider better care for you and develop an appropriate plan of treatment for you. If you have severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing or chest pain, immediately call 911.
Wildfire Smoke Symptoms
Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning vegetation, building materials, and other materials, according to the CDC. Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick. Even someone who is healthy can get sick if there is enough smoke in the air. Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects and symptoms, including:
- Trouble breathing normally
- Stinging eyes
- A scratchy throat
- Runny nose
- Irritated sinuses
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- An asthma attack
- Fast heartbeat
Older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke.
People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. According to the CDC, people with these symptoms may have COVID-19:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
This list does not include all possible symptoms. The CDC will continue to update this list as we learn more about COVID-19.
How to protect yourself when there is smoke in the air
For wildfire smoke in the air, the CDC recommends the following:
Limit your exposure to smoke. That might mean staying indoors and keeping your indoor air as clean as possible by closing doors and windows, and turning off fresh-air intakes.
Do not add to indoor polution. Using anything that burns, such as candles or cigarettes, can add to pollution. Take a break from the chores and don’t use your vacuum cleaner, as vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Consider using a freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal to help protect people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions and the elderly and children from the effects of wildfire smoke.
Listen to public health agencies. Watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Pay attention to public health messages and take extra safety measures such as avoiding spending time outdoors. If it’s too hot to keep doors and windows closed and you don’t have an air conditioner, you should seek shelter elsewhere. And if you are told to evacuate, leave as quickly as possible.
If you have asthma or lung disease, talk with your AFM provider about how best to navigate wildfire season. And if you start to experience symptoms of smoke exposure or COVID-19, call to schedule an appointment with your provider or in our new Virtual Urgent Care Department.