• Urgent Care
  • Asthma
  • Lung Health

Wildfire Smoke More Dangerous Than Other Air Pollution for People With Asthma

July 26, 2021

wildfire smoke in reno sparks

Stage 2 Air Quality Index and alarming research studies from DRI, Renown Health and the Washoe County Health District leads to public health advisory- seek care if needed

For people who suffer from asthma, wildfire smoke is more hazardous than other types of air pollution, according to a study from the Desert Research Institute (DRI), the Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) and the Washoe County Health District (WCHD). The study published in the journal Environmental Health examined associations between airborne particulate matter (PM) from sources such as wildfire, transportation and industry, and medical visits for asthma at Renown Health’s emergency departments and urgent care centers in Reno, Nev. during the six-year period from 2013-2018.

In places like Reno, where wildfire events occur regularly during parts of the year and are expected to become more frequent in the future, an accurate understanding of the impacts of wildfire smoke on population health is critical. We have an exceptional process in place through our urgent care sites, Renown Medical Group offices and hospital emergency departments to screen, diagnose and treat members of our community who come to us for care related to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other upper respiratory diseases that may be exacerbated by wildfire smoke. At the same time, we continue to develop and refine, in real-time, the data that supports our predictive analytic models. We are using every tool and resource-including scientific data and clinical reporting, to ensure that we are meeting both the health and healthcare needs of the people we serve.

In the study, researchers found that air quality in the Reno area was affected by wildfire smoke on a total of 188 days during the study period. A total of 18,836 asthma-related emergency room and urgent care visits occurred over the same five-year period of time, indicating that the influences of wildfire smoke and other types of air pollution on this medical condition are important to understand.

The Washoe County Health District – Air Quality Management Division (AQMD) has issued a Stage 2 Air Pollution Warning due to smoke from area wildfires. Air quality in the Reno-Sparks area is now “Very Unhealthy” with an Air Quality Index of 247. The Stage 2 warning means that all residents should stay indoors and reduce activity levels due to the susceptibility of increased health risks. To see current air quality in Reno-Sparks, click here.

Brion Hill, MD who practices at the Renown Urgent Care - Los Altos location warns, “This is an important health advisory, exposure to elevated PM2.5 (fine particulate matter in smoke) concentrations can result in eye and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, shortness of breath, congestion, coughing, impaired lung function and chest pain. Everyone should take precautions when the air quality is unhealthy. Air pollution can aggravate heart and cardiovascular disease as well as lung diseases like asthma and COPD. When the air quality is unhealthy, people with these conditions may experience symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, or fatigue. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, use your inhalers as directed and contact your health care provider,” says Dr. Hill. “If you do not have a health care provider, we have 11 conveniently located Renown Urgent Care offices with providers ready to see you 7 days a week."

Dr. Joseph Grzymski, a research professor at Desert Research Institute, a corresponding author on the study and Chief Scientific Officer, Renown Health, says, “This air is very bad for your health. Given today’s Air Quality Index in Reno, being outside and breathing this air for a day equals about smoking half a package of cigarettes.”

Additional Information:

The full text of the article “Particulate matter and emergency visits for asthma: a time-series study of their association in the presence and absence of wildfire smoke in Reno, Nevada, 2013–2018,” is available from Environmental Healthhttps://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-020-00646-2

To learn more about the Renown Institute for Health Innovation, please visit: https://www.dri.edu/renown-ihi/

Renown Urgent Care provides treatment for a wide range of minor injuries, illnesses and medical concerns that are urgent but not life-threatening, that require same-day medical attention and avoid the long wait times and high prices of the emergency room at 13 convenient sites, including Reno, Sparks, Carson City, USA Parkway, Fallon and Fernley. You can walk-in or book ahead online.

The Washoe County Health District offers online health information on its Be Smoke Smart website, including fire information, daily air quality information, fire and smoke maps and how to protect yourself.



About the Desert Research Institute

The Desert Research Institute (DRI) is a recognized world leader in basic and applied interdisciplinary research. Committed to scientific excellence and integrity, DRI faculty, students, and staff have developed scientific knowledge and innovative technologies in research projects around the globe. Since 1959, DRI’s research has advanced scientific knowledge, supported Nevada’s diversifying economy, provided science-based educational opportunities, and informed policymakers, business leaders, and community members. With campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, DRI serves as the non-profit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education. For more information, visit www.dri.edu.

About Renown Health

Renown Health is a locally governed, not-for-profit integrated healthcare network serving northern Nevada, Lake Tahoe and northeast California. Renown is one of the region’s largest private employers with a workforce of more than 7,000. It comprises three acute care hospitals, a rehabilitation hospital, the area’s most comprehensive medical group and urgent care network, and the region’s largest and only locally owned not-for-profit insurance company, Hometown Health. Renown has a long tradition and commitment to improve the care and the health of our community. For more information, visit renown.org.