ALAMOSA – Smoke from wildfires can cause problems for those with respiratory and cardiac disease as well as the very young and elderly. Smoke from forest and grass fires contains particles that can irritate eyes, throat, and lungs. These can be bothersome to many people, but especially so to those with compromised lungs.
Smoke can worsen symptoms for those who have pre-existing conditions such as asthma, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Typical symptoms include:
* Difficulty breathing normally
* Cough with or without mucus
* Chest discomfort
* Wheezing and shortness of breath
* Seasonal allergies and increased pollen made worse by smoke
* Particulate matter (PM)—extremely small particles or droplets of pollution in the air are inhaled, making respiratory symptoms worse
Particulate-laden smoke can also worsen cardiac disease. Inhaled particles trigger the release of chemical messengers into the blood that may increase the risk of blood clots, angina episodes, heart attacks, and strokes. People with chronic cardiac conditions are more susceptible to chest pain, cardiac arrhythmias, acute congestive heart failure or stroke.
“For most healthy people, low amounts of wildfire smoke are more unpleasant than a health risk,” said Dr. McAuliffe. If wildfire smoke is triggering mild symptoms, he recommended the following:
* Patients should take medications as prescribed, and use a rescue inhaler if one has been prescribed. They should not take more medication, or take it more often than prescribed.
* If the patients are near the fires where smoke or particulates are significant, or the smoke is making them sick, they should consider leaving the area until the air clears.
* People should stay indoors as much as possible, and close the windows if they can.
* Limit or eliminate outdoor exercise until the air clears.
* If patients are requiring increased medication or experiencing increased symptoms, they should contact their primary care provider and together decide if they should be seen.
* For severe symptoms go to the nearest emergency department for evaluation.