As an emergency medicine resident at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Zachary Wettstein, MD, has seen the effects of wildfires firsthand. On days when it’s really smoky, he says, “I’m not surprised that I’m seeing more people with shortness of breath.” Densely smoky days certainly are growing as wildfire season worsens, experts say, spurred in part by such environmental changes as earlier snowmelts that can cause drier, hotter conditions.
A few years ago, Wettstein and his colleagues suspected that raging fires — and the smoke and fine particulate matter they spawn — also were causing increased cardiovascular problems. “Whenever we have a bad wildfire season like we did last summer here, it definitely seemed like we were seeing an uptick in the number of strokes,” he says. So he decided to study the issue.