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WILDFIRES

Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people’s health?

Dozens of wildfires are currently destroying thousands of hectares of forest and land across Spain, but what impact can they have on your health if you happen to live in a province which is dealing with forest fires?

Are Spain’s wildfires a risk to people's health?
Smoke inhalation from wildfires can damage your health. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP

Forest fires raging across Spain have already broken annual records in terms of hectares destroyed, with another grim milestone for the highest number of wildfires in a single year set to follow.

Just over 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres) of forests in Spain have been lost to fire so far this year, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.

As well as wreaking havoc across the local landscapes, they can be particularly damaging to our health too. 

Experts say that even more dangerous than getting burned by the fires themselves, is breathing in the smoke from them. This is in fact the leading cause of death during a fire.

This means even if you’re not actually that near the fire, the smoke in the air can still affect you.

According to the experts, pollutants and smoke particles from wildfires can travel thousands of miles away, so even if you’re in the next town, you may be at some risk.

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

What are the effects of smoke inhalation?

If a forest fire is particularly big and rages for a long time, like we have seen this summer in Spain already, then the damage from smoke inhalation can be particularly bad.

Particles from fires are very small – one-third the diameter of your hair, according to the American Lung Association, and can therefore easily get lodged deep in your lungs.

Fumes from these fires can cause coughs, irritated eyes, an itchy nose and scratchy throat. It can also be dangerous for those who are vulnerable and suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma.

Particle pollution can also trigger heart attacks and strokes.

Children, pregnant women and the elderly are particularly vulnerable when exposed to smoke. It has been found that these people are more likely to get coughs, colds and bronchitis after breathing in fumes from fires.

According to Cristina Martínez, an expert from the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery, smoke is not only dangerous because of the particles it emits, but also because it can raise temperatures further. Smoke alone can cause burns inside your respiratory system, such as in your throat and your lungs.

Remember that if you have inhaled a lot of smoke, you should get checked out by a doctor, even if you feel fine, your insides might not be.

How can I minimise the damage to my health?

Chief fire officer for Madrid Víctor Prieto says that to eliminate these health risks, you should listen to the authorities and stay inside if it’s safe to do so. He also encourages people to close all doors and windows to make sure the smog doesn’t get inside the house.

If you do have to go outside, it’s important to make sure your nose and mouth are covered with a mask, so the air is filtered before you breathe it.

Remember to also always call the emergency services if you spot a forest fire. Even if it’s small, it can quickly get out of control.

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HEALTH

What is the average waiting time across Spain to see a doctor?

Find out the average amount of time you'll have to wait to see your GP, a specialist and get a non-urgent surgery in your region of Spain.

What is the average waiting time across Spain to see a doctor?

Where you live in Spain greatly affects the amount of time you’ll have to wait, from the first appointment with your family doctor to seeing a specialist and even through to an operation, if you need one. 

Two and half years after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which almost brought the country’s clinics and hospitals to breaking point, how is the situation now?

Here are the average waiting times in each region of the country, with data published by the regional health authorities. 

Andalusia
In Andalusia, the average wait time to see a doctor is four days. To see a specialist such as a dermatologist or a cardiologist, however, you will be waiting three months. Wait times for non-urgent surgeries vary depending on what you need. 

Aragón
Those living in Aragón will typically be able to get a doctor’s appointment within three days, but to see a specialist, it is one of the worst regions in the country, with an average waiting time of four months.

Asturias
The latest waiting times to see a doctor or a specialist in Asturias have not yet been published, but if you need a special test such as an MRI, you will be waiting more than three months.

Balearic Islands
In the Balearics, the average waiting time for an appointment to see your GP is one week, while if you need to see a specialist, you will be waiting around two months. For a non-urgent surgery, you will be on the waiting list for an average of four and a half months. The Balearic Islands are one of the worst places if you need a diagnostic test though with an average wait of more than six months. 

Basque Country
Data from the Basque Country has so far not been made available. 

Canary Islands
Like in Aragón, the Canary Islands is one of the worst places to live if you need to see a specialist with the longest waiting time of more than four months.

Cantabria
Cantabria has so far not updated its data on waiting times to see a specialist, but if you need a non-urgent surgery it has one of the longest waiting times at six months.

Castilla-La-Mancha
Those in Castilla-La-Mancha have one of the shortest wait times to see a GP, being able to book an appointment within just 48 hours. They’ll have to wait longer to see a specialist, however, with an average wait of two months. Those waiting for non-urgent surgery will be waiting another four months.

Castilla y León
In Castilla y León you’ll wait an average of six days before being given an appointment and two months to see a specialist.

Catalonia
Residents of Spain’s northeastern region wait an average of five days in order to get a doctor’s appointment. For diagnostic tests, the wait time depends on what you need. You will be on the list for five months on average for a colonoscopy and two months for an MRI.

If you need to see a specialist again it will completely depend on what type of specialist you need to see. For example, if you need to see a urologist you’ll have to wait five months, but if you need to see a neurologist you’ll be able to get an appointment in less than three months. If your doctor thinks you require non-urgent surgery, you will need to wait another four and half months.

Extremadura
In Extremadura, you’ll have to wait an average of four days for an appointment, while the waiting time to see a specialist will be around two months. Like Cantabria, Extremadura is one of the worst places to live if you need non-urgent surgery, as you’ll be waiting around half a year.

Galicia
Those in Galicia will be able to see a doctor in just three days, however, they have not published recent data on the wait time to see a specialist. They have however published data for non-urgent surgery which is an average wait of three months.

Madrid
Like in Galicia, in Madrid the waiting time for an appointment is just three days, but two months to see a specialist. For a test like an ultrasound or a CT scan, you will be waiting two months. If you need a non-urgent surgery, you’ll be on the waitlist for a further three months.

Murcia
The average wait time to see your GP has not been made available yet, but like in Andalusia, you’ll be waiting more than three months if you need to see a specialist. It’s one of the best regions for wait times for diagnostic tests though as you will be waiting less than one month. 

Navarre
Navarre has one of the shortest wait times for an appointment, available in just 48 hours. If you need to see a specialist, you’ll be waiting a further two months. Those waiting for a non-urgent surgery will have to wait an average of three months.  

La Rioja
Along with Castilla-La Mancha and Navarre, La Rioja has the shortest wait time to get a doctor’s appointment. Here, you’ll be able to see your GP in just 48 hours. This region is also the best to live in if you need to see a specialist or get a specialised test, with a wait of less than one month. If you need non-urgent surgery though it’s not so good, as you’ll be waiting an average of four months.

Valencia
Those living in Valencia have the longest wait out of all the regions for an appointment, where you’ll wait more than a month just to see a GP. When it comes to seeing a specialist you’ll need to wait another three months. And if you need surgery, you will have to wait four and half months on top of that.

The types of non-urgent surgeries the data refers to are hip and knee replacements. For other types of surgeries, it will depend on how urgent it is and what type of surgery it is. At the beginning of the year, there were more than 706,000 people waiting for an operation in Spain, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

You should be aware, however, that official data doesn’t always represent reality. Some readers have told us that currently, they are having to wait a month to see their GP in Catalonia and seven months to see a specialist.

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