ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The summer of smoke from Canadian wildfires, paired with the residual effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, could have some people feeling the burn.

A local pulmonologist said the two are separate irritants, but could cross over.

  • People with lingering COVID-19 symptoms are part of the group of people who should stay indoors when smoke is bad
  • A Lehigh Valley doctor said people living with lung problems should be aware of what’s happening outside
  • COVID and smoke are mostly two separate issues

“It’s kind of two mostly separate issues,” Dr. Joseph Schellenberg, a pulmonologist with LVPG Pulmonary and Critical Care, said.

“COVID-related respiratory conditions have thankfully abated as COVID has, thank God, moved from a position of being a lethal, a potentially lethal respiratory virus that causes inflammation and lung damage, now to, for most patients, being really just a minimally symptomatic respiratory virus.”

Dr. Joseph Schellenberg, a pulmonologist with LVPG Pulmonary and Critical Care

“COVID-related respiratory conditions have thankfully abated as COVID has, thank God, moved from a position of being a lethal, a potentially lethal respiratory virus that causes inflammation and lung damage, now to, for most patients, being really just a minimally symptomatic respiratory virus with usually minimal sequela,” Schellenberg said.

Separate irritants, but both with issues

Most of the time, people who get COVID are over the symptoms within a matter of days, but for a small part of those people respiratory issues linger and the smoke from up north can make things worse, he said.

The two are two separate irritants, he said, but those with lasting respiratory issues from COVID could be more affected by the air quality.

“There are people who survived their COVID, severe COVID infection, who do have persistent lung damage,” he said.

“Anybody with significant lung disorders should really, really try to avoid outdoor exposure doing these ozone action days.”

Dr. Joseph Schellenberg, pulmonologist, Lehigh Valley Health Network

“Usually that resolves over time, but some are left with a degree of lung impairment and so they would fall into now somebody who does have a chronic lung condition, to be, perhaps, be more susceptible to some of those more environmental challenges.”

He said he doesn’t see a lot of overlap between the two respiratory issues, but people living with any type of lung problem should be aware of what’s happening outside.

“Anybody with significant lung disorders should really, really try to avoid outdoor exposure doing these ozone action days,” he said.

People without those types of issues still can be affected by the smoke, he said.

“When the smoke counts were really, really high in early June, that essentially is enough that anybody could be affected in terms of symptoms of cough or shortness of breath or airway irritation, much as if they were in a significantly smoggy or smoky environment somewhere else,” Schellenberg said.

He said it’s important to check the air quality report when deciding the day’s activities, just as they’d check the weather when planning their day.



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