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A woman with a concerned expression is covered in wildfire smoke

Air Quality, Wildfire Smoke, and Thyroid Eye Disease

"Come inside, smoke from a huge fire in Canada is moving into NYC."

What?? I was working from home and sitting outside on my terrace. I looked up at the sky which looked a little dark, but it had just rained. I could not smell anything, but my sense of smell had been somewhat compromised during a previous sinus-related surgery. I immediately went inside.

I have never liked being around smoke, and now that I have thyroid eye disease (TED) my eyes certainly hate it. After 4 surgeries for TED I still regularly experience dryness and some redness. While surgeries certainly helped a lot, my eyes are still farther forward than they were before TED, and thus the whites of my eyes are more exposed and can be sensitive.

Wildfires impacting my thyroid eye disease

I have family in Northern California who unfortunately are well versed with wildfire smoke. Over the past few years I avoided traveling to California during the summertime. I went once, and my eyes were very clear with their demands - no smoke, stay inside. But now smoke from a fire was appearing at my doorstep, and it was very unexpected.

Advice from family was to close the windows right away and wear a N95 mask outside. Unfortunately, it was time for me to go to work in Manhattan. Everything was happening so quickly, so I grabbed my mask and left. I had not seen any alerts from the city prior to this, so hopefully the air quality was not going to get too bad.

I was wrong. Minute by minute things were getting significantly worse. I could smell the smoke through my mask. I noticed others wearing N95s on the street. My eyes started to feel dry and - ouch. I dashed inside, looked in my bag - no eye drops. Shoot. I made it through work, dashed home as quickly as possible, flooded my eyes with eye drops, and turned on my mini HEPA filter. Following the news and updates from the city, the air quality was dangerously high and very unsafe.

The following morning looked a little better, and that morning's work location was local, just a five minute walk away. "Maybe I should buy a pair of swimmers goggles and wear them outside?" I thought. I armed myself with eye drops, but when I finished work the smoke was significantly worse. My eyes started protesting. I cancelled all of my plans for the next two days determined to stay home, but when I opened the door to my apartment I knew something was wrong.

Trying to manage my environment and symptoms

I could smell smoke, so I spent the next hour checking for poorly insulated areas around my terrace door and in-wall air conditioner, covering any suspicious spots with plastic and tape. It was so easy for smoky air to creep in through imperfections in weatherstripping. My HEPA filter had already been running, and I was continuously using eye drops.

These things significantly helped, but I could feel that something was was not right. I am highly aware of even minor changes in and around my eyes, and something definitely had not feel right since the first time I went outside.

Since having my multiple surgeries for TED, my worst fear has been that something would happen that would push me back into a new active phase. Any aches around eyes made me very nervous. "Okay, don’t panic. Put the HEPA filter on your desk, stay hydrated, keep using eye drops, and hopefully it will get better."

And yes, things started feeling better. I decided to avoid going outside until the smoke cleared and the air quality was safer. I made a mental note to buy a larger air purifying system with a HEPA filter, always carry eye drops with me, research eye protection, and ask my doctor about any more suggestions for the future in case this happens again.

Have you experienced wildfires with TED?

I know that there must be others out there with TED who unfortunately need to navigate this situation more often. While I have seen plenty of articles online about the risk factors of cigarette smoke, I could not find much information about the impacts of wildfire smoke. So I wanted to create a space for a community discussion.

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