Smoky air poses health hazard

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Smoky air poses health hazardSmoke from nearby fires hovers over the Indian Wells Valley, obscuring sight and putting residents at risk for respiratory illness. Photo by Laura Austin

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Although the Indian Wells Valley remains sheltered from yet another devastating fire season raging across California, residents are still vulnerable to the harmful side effects of prolonged exposure to smoke-filled air.

Robert Wood, cardiopulmonary department manager for Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, said he has seen an increase in patients seeking relief from respiratory-related illness.

“This has been going on for the last couple of weeks. We thought there was going to be a lull after it seemed to be dissipating, but then it started to pick back up.”

Public health experts warn that smoke can carry microscopically small particulate matter that can penetrate the respiratory system. The particles can contain anything from the ashes of burned vegetation to more toxic substances like partially burned plastic.

Wood said particles hanging in the air can also include the valley fever fungus — dangerous spores that can trigger serious illness in and around the Central Valley.

“The smoke can cause a lot of difficulty for people, but the heat also exacerbates the problem,” said Wood.

Those especially at risk include people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and allergies, as well as the very young and very old.

He urged everyone with a respiratory-related medical condition to monitor their “peak flows” before they get too sick.

“This means watching how much air you can exhale. As your airways tighten, that means you can get air in but you can’t get it out. So you can’t breath in because you don’t have space — it would be like trying to put more fuel in a full tank of gas.”

As a precaution against potential respiratory illness, Wood advised residents to remain inside with the windows and doors shut.

Use the “recycle” or “recirculating” air options on air-conditioning units when possible, he said, and avoid cooking and vacuuming, “which can increase the level of pollutants in the air.”

Outdoor activities and overexertion should be avoided wherever possible.

Warning signs to look out for include chest pain and tightness. “Contact your doctor if you experience either of those,” he said.

Other symptoms linked to poor air quality include dryness and irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and skin; headache; fatigue; shortness of breath; coughing or sneezing; sinus congestion; hypersensitivity and allergies.

More about the local smoke advisory is available at http://wp .sbcounty.gov/dph/wp-content/ uploads/sites/7/2018/08/NR-Health-Officer-issues-smoke-advisory-from-Holy-Fire.pdf

Story First Published: 2018-08-10