Background: Wildland firefighters are exposed to smoke and small particulate matter while working wildfires and prescribed fires. Little research has been done on the health effects of the occupational exposures these firefighters face. Many studies have been done regarding the use of personal protective equipment for structure firefighters. However, there are few recommendations regarding lung health and protection for wildland firefighters. This is a critically appraised topic on occupational smoke exposure and short-term lung function changes in wildland firefighters.
Methods: Exhaustive search of available medical literature was completed using PubMed, CINAHL and Web of Science with the key words: wildland firefighter, lung function, smoke exposure, and spirometry.
Results: The search of available medical literature yielded 54 articles, 7 of which pertained to the topic, and 3 of which met the inclusion criteria. All of the articles are prospective observational cohort studies following wildland firefighting crews for one wildfire season. All three studies evaluated changes in lung function using spirometry, however, two of the studies also evaluated sputum samples for inflammatory markers. Two of the studies noted significant decreases in FEV1 in firefighters immediately after smoke exposure and at the end of the study, after a period without smoke exposure. The third study did not show changes in spirometry measurements per day but did see a decrease in lung function with cumulative smoke exposure.
Conclusion: There were statistically significant changes in lung function with smoke exposure over the course of a fire season. Further studies are needed to investigate long term health effects of occupation smoke exposure for wildland firefighters.
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