Wildfire smoke impacting COVID-19 long haulers

Covid Lungs
Posted at 4:21 PM, Aug 25, 2021

Idaho has been smokey for the last few weeks and while the smoke can affect anyone, COVID-19 long haulers say this makes their long-lasting symptoms feel worse than before.

“I have such pain from being around any of the smoke. There honestly are no words to describe it. It is a nightmare,” COVID-19 long hauler Syndi Shoff said.

Shoff lives in Idaho Falls and has seen smokey skies like the rest of the state for weeks, but for her, it’s worse. Shoff contracted COVID-19 in May and has been dealing with long hauler symptoms ever since.

She says the smoke makes her symptoms 10 times worse.

Syndi Shoff

“It had never bothered me before. Before I had COVID I would still go out. I would do yard work; I would go to the store and live my life. After having COVID, I cannot.”

She says she has to keep her windows closed at all times and even just being around people who have been outside triggers her symptoms. She hasn't recovered her taste or smell – but she says her kids aren't able to go outside and play because they unintentionally bring the smoke into the house with them.

“It is a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. It is something that has been very robbing of the life that I knew," Shoff said.

“It affects me when people have been outside in the smoke and smokey air because almost instantly when I'm around them my chest tightens up, I have a difficult time breathing, my eyes run like crazy. It just really seems to aggravates whatever is happening inside my body,” Shoff said.

Saint Alphonsus Medical Director for Pulmonary Critical Care John East says not a lot is known at this time about how wildfire smoke could directly impact a long hauler.

“The type of pollution that we get with forest fire smoke consists of small particles from the burning of wood and those particles are small enough that they can actually penetrate deep into the lungs and that small particle that gets deep into the lungs can trigger an inflammatory response.”

He says it would make sense that someone would feel these symptoms since forest fire smoke can already create an inflammatory response for anyone.

Dr. John East
Dr. John East is the Saint Alphonsus Medical Director of Pulmonary Critical Care

“We know that infection with COVID is in many people, an inflammatory condition. When you get these patients who are long haulers, and there have been publications looking at inflammation post-infection even for people with the mild or asymptomatic disease and we know that there is persistent activation of inflammatory molecules in these patients,” East said. “The inflammation in the lungs though, for anybody with a chronic medical condition or even people without chronic medical conditions impacts the way they feel. So, I think it's not exclusive to people with long hauler COVID, but I think anybody who has a chronic medical condition or any of those conditions, that there's a risk that the poor air quality can make them feel worse.”

If you are a COVID-19 long hauler in Idaho, you can join the Facebook group for support.