Air pollution is a worldwide public health issue that has been exacerbated by recent wildfires, but the relationship between wildfire-associated air pollution and inflammatory skin diseases is unknown.
To assess the associations between wildfire-associated air pollution and clinic visits for atopic dermatitis (AD) or itch and prescribed medications for AD management.
This cross-sectional time-series study assessed the associations of air pollution resulting from the California Camp Fire in November 2018 and 8049 dermatology clinic visits (4147 patients) at an academic tertiary care hospital system in San Francisco, 175 miles from the wildfire source. Participants included pediatric and adult patients with AD or itch from before, during, and after the time of the fire (October 2018 through February 2019), compared with those with visits in the same time frame of 2015 and 2016, when no large wildfires were near San Francisco. Data analysis was conducted from November 1, 2019, to May 30, 2020.
Wildfire-associated air pollution was characterized using 3 metrics: fire status, concentration of particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5), and satellite-based smoke plume density scores.
Weekly clinic visit counts for AD or itch were the primary outcomes. Secondary outcomes were weekly numbers of topical and systemic medications prescribed for AD in adults.
Visits corresponding to a total of 4147 patients (mean [SD] age, 44.6 [21.1] years; 2322 [56%] female) were analyzed. The rates of visits for AD during the Camp Fire for pediatric patients were 1.49 (95% CI, 1.07-2.07) and for adult patients were 1.15 (95% CI, 1.02-1.30) times the rate for nonfire weeks at lag 0, adjusted for temperature, relative humidity, patient age, and total patient volume at the clinics for pediatric patients. The adjusted rate ratios for itch clinic visits during the wildfire weeks were 1.82 (95% CI, 1.20-2.78) for the pediatric patients and 1.29 (95% CI, 0.96-1.75) for adult patients. A 10-μg/m3 increase in weekly mean PM2.5 concentration was associated with a 7.7% (95% CI, 1.9%-13.7%) increase in weekly pediatric itch clinic visits. The adjusted rate ratio for prescribed systemic medications in adults during the Camp Fire at lag 0 was 1.45 (95% CI, 1.03-2.05).
This cross-sectional study found that short-term exposure to air pollution due to the wildfire was associated with increased health care use for patients with AD and itch. These results may provide a better understanding of the association between poor air quality and skin health and guide health care professionals’ counseling of patients with skin disease and public health practice.