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Smoke from wildfires doesn’t just affect people with respiratory conditions. A recent study in Dermatology and Therapy suggests that air pollutants related to smoke may cause or aggravate skin problems. Shadi Kourosh, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study, spoke about it with Harvard Public Health.

Why study this topic?

We wanted to help our patients. Typically, patients with eczema experience worsening symptoms, or flares, in winter months due to cold dry weather. We were seeing an unusual surge [of patients] in the summer. They kept telling us their skin conditions were particularly bad, or “worse than ever before.” Some patients even had eczema for the first time. A few mentioned their skin irritating them after spending time in New York during peak pollution periods.

What did you find?

After the Canadian wildfires, when smog and carbon monoxide were at record levels, we found an atypical summer peak in the Boston region’s carbon dioxide levels. At the same time, there was a spike in dermatitis- and eczema-related dermatology clinic visits within the Mass General Brigham hospital system.

What would you like to see happen based on the study’s results?

Public health departments and other government agencies must work together to improve air quality and purification policies. These are measures we need to take to lower the burden of air pollution on skin disease, particularly for vulnerable communities, who are experiencing disproportionate impacts of air pollution.

—Leah Samuel

(Study in Dermatology and Therapy, December 2023)

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