Wood Smoke and Your Lungs: Your Gender Mattersby Diane Domina Content Production Editor
The respiratory effects of wood smoke vary in men and women, according to a study from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, though these differences aren’t clear when data involving both genders is combined.
The UNC researchers exposed male and female volunteers to either wood smoke or filtered air prior to administering a standard flu vaccine, which causes a natural, mild immune response in the nasal passages. They discovered that men exposed to wood smoke had higher inflammation markers in the cells that line the nasal passages than men exposed to filtered air. However, women exposed to wood smoke had lower inflammation markers in the nasal lining than women exposed to filtered air. When these results were combined and averaged, the researchers say, they falsely suggested wood smoke had no effect on immune responses.
Wood smoke is a significant cause of sickness and death — about 40 percent of the global population is chronically exposed to smoke from wood and other combustible materials. Smoke in the air contains dozens of known toxins and has been linked to respiratory diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and lung cancer in non-smokers. The problem is expected to become more widely spread as the wildfire threat increases due to global warming and other factors.