There are more than 18,400 wildfires burning in the U.S. alone (and over 800 in Canada, half of which are considered out of control), creating hazardous air-quality conditions (as of June, 2023).
With air-quality warnings issued and visible smoke and the scent of burning in the air, we’re all concerned about our health amidst the effects of climate change. Should you be worried about your fertility if you're trying to conceive or your pregnancy if you're currently pregnant?
How does air pollution affect health and fertility?
Wildfires release pollutants into the air and this includes chemicals and small particles that can have a range of effects on our health and wellbeing. Some of these chemicals include:
- Fine particulate matter: This comes from the smoke produced by a wildfire and can penetrate deep into the lungs and potentially enter the bloodstream, leading to inflammation and oxidative stress.
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): PAHs are chemicals released during the combustion of organic matter (like wood and vegetation). Exposure has been associated with adverse effects on reproductive health and pregnancy outcomes.
- Carbon Monoxide: This colorless and odorless gas is harmful when inhales, and high levels can reduce the oxygen-carrying capacity of the lungs.
- Volatile Organic Compounds: This group of chemicals includes formaldehyde, benzene and toluene and is linked to reproductive health issues.
Can air quality affect fertility?
Your reproductive health is connected to your overall health, so yes, you should be heeding the warnings issued by your city when it comes to protecting yourself from air pollution. Keep in mind, many of the studies we have look at long-term exposure to air pollutants (what most of us are experiencing isn’t considered long-term exposure, although it is concerning and hazardous).
We do know that the chemicals in air pollution can affect conception and birth rates, and more specifically, these chemicals can interfere with our hormones which are directly related to fertility. Particulate matter has been linked to lower fecundability (the probability of achieving a pregnancy within one menstrual cycle).
Can air quality affect pregnancy?
Air pollution can have adverse effects on the health of both the pregnancy carrier and the developing fetus. The most likely side effects are respiratory, including coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, at a time when your lungs are likely already compressed or working harder than usual. There have been some studies that show exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of preterm birth, preeclampsia and low birth weight. In the IVF population, a 2018 study found that nitrogen dioxide and ozone (air pollutants) were linked to a reduced live birth rate and particular matter was linked to an increased risk of miscarriage.
How can I protect myself from air pollution?
Our team at Bird&Be want the best for you and your reproductive health, so we've put together some recommendations to keep you as safe as possible during this time.
Reduce time spent outside
Staying inside, with the windows closed it going to be your best bet for avoiding overwhelming air pollution. If you have an air purifier (with a HEPA filter), even better. And if you have access to your furnace, change out the filter regularly and ensure it's a top-of-the-line pick for optimal particle filtration.
Wear an N95 mask
If you do need to be outside, wear a well-fitting N95 mask. These masks work well at filtering small particles and offer the most protection when outside.
Have medication on hand
If you do suffer from any pre-existing conditions that might make this exposure harder for you (this may include conditions like asthma) make sure you have your medication on hand in case symptoms start flaring.