Board-certified dermatologist, Maria Wei, MD, PhD, FAAD, will discuss strategies to minimize the effect air pollution can have on the skin at the American Academy of Dermatology's Annual Meeting in New Orleans.
"The health impact of air pollution from wildfires has not been well studied, but the evidence from our recent studies suggests that short-term exposure to wildfire air pollution can affect the skin and cause flares of certain skin disorders," said Dr. Wei, who is a professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco. "We found that the air pollution from California wildfires were associated with an increase in patient visits to dermatologists for both eczema and psoriasis. 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."
Polution-Related Skin Conditions: Eczema & Psoriasis
People who have eczema are more likely to visit dermatologists during the wildfires, while psoriasis patients are more likely to seek care five to nine weeks after the fires started.
"This difference in timing may suggest that there are differences in how air pollution triggers flares for eczema compared to psoriasis," she said. "We also noted a significant increase in the number of oral and injectable medications prescribed for eczema during the wildfires, suggesting that the disease flares were more serious."
Related: How Global Warming Impacts the Microbiome and Skin Health
The wildfires also affected adult and pediatric patients differently. The number of adults who sought treatment for psoriasis increased during the wildfires, while there was no increase in pediatric psoriasis patient visits. The studies showed there was an increase in the number of children, and adults over the age of 65, who sought treatment for eczema while the studies' authors noted that people who had never been diagnosed with eczema sought care from dermatologists for itchy skin during the wildfires.
"One of the interesting things that we discovered is that wildfire air pollution can affect communities quite a distance from where the fires originate," said Dr. Wei. "The two fires we studied were 50 miles and 175 miles away from San Francisco, where the studies' patient population was located. This suggests that as wildfires increase, we might see an influx in the number of people seeking care for pollution-related skin conditions."
Dr. Wei hypothesized that staying indoors during days with high levels of air pollutants and having an indoor air purifier can help these skin conditions. It's not clear if topical medications or moisturizers will help. Future studies are needed to assess the effectiveness of these strategies.