When you think of the impact of pollution on health, you probably think of coughing, itchy eyes and a scratchy throat.
But experts also warn of other, less expected, symptoms from poor air quality – including disrupted sleep, acne and even mood swings.
Their warning comes after the US National Weather Service issued air quality alerts for almost the entire Atlantic seaboard due to drifting smoke from Canadian wildfires.
People in New York were also warned this week to limit outdoor activity due to the high pollution – after officials warned it would reach “unhealthy” level.
According to one doctor, Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonologist with the American Lung Association, the impact of wildfires can have on people’s health can range from headaches to nausea.
The headaches or dizziness may be the direct result of breathing in pollution, such as carbon monoxide, from the smoke.
Sleep can also be thrown off because of exposure to wildfire smoke, according to Dr Galiatsatos, because fine particulate matter can enter the bloodstream.
This can cause inflammation in and around the brain as well as other parts of the body, making it difficult to get rest.
“Even if you’re healthy, you may feel some effects,” he told NBC News.
Parents should also keep an eye on how their kids are feeling.
Young children are known to become irritable, angry or just overall more moody because of exposure to poor air quality, including from wildfire smoke, Dr Galiatsatos said.
He added that the same occurrence is not seen as much with adults.
“If children are exposed to things that are toxic, they tend to get more irritable. It’s the same thing seen with a respiratory virus. Maybe they can’t breathe as well or maybe they’re just congested,” he added.
According to Gregory Wu, a critical care medicine physician at Albany Medical Center in New York, it is not uncommon for people to also experience chest pain, headaches and dizziness due to poor air quality.
“We do encourage folks, if they’re having chest pain or chest tightness, that they should be seeking care,” Dr Wu said.
“And similarly, if folks are having headaches or dizziness, that’s another good reason to seek care, or at least get indoors.”
Maria Wei, a professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, said that wildfire smoke can also cause skin problems.
Dr Wei published a study in JAMA Dermatology in 2021 that found short-term exposure to wildfire smoke can cause flare-ups of skin disorders, such as psoriasis and eczema, including in people who did not previously have a diagnosis.
The flare-ups are not always immediate and can show up four or five weeks later, she added.
People have also reported itchy skin, acne and rashes on their hands and face from poor air quality, she said.
Long-term exposure can also cause wrinkles. “It’s well known that air pollution can cause premature ageing of the skin,” she said.
Particulate matter from smoke can penetrate the skin, but Dr. Wei also expects there may be an overactive immune response from the pollution that kicks in, causing flare-ups.