As fire season winds down, smoke from fires creates health risks
Respiratory health impacted by wildfires burning in Northwest Colorado
August 20, 2016
The Beaver Creek wildfire continues to burn north of Walden and the eyes and lungs of people in the region are also burning from irritation caused by wildfire smoke.
This year, 146 fires totaling 37,900 acres have burned in Colorado and Wyoming with most of the acreage burned was by the Beaver Creek fire, according to David Boyd, public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management.
A wildfire doesn't have to be burning nearby for the smoke to impact the area.
"Sometimes we are significantly impacted by smoke from California, Utah, Nevada and Montana," Boyd said.
Smoke from fires is a health concern.
"Many people may have respiratory symptoms when breathing smoky air. The good news is that most symptoms are short-lived, and resolve as smoke dissipates," Dr. Karin Pacheco of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at National Jewish HealthNational Jewish Health said in a news release. said in a news release.
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National Jewish Health said in a news release.
Local respiratory health specialists have seen an increase in patients this year.
"Immuno suppressed patients are more affected by wildfires. We have had a lot more pneumonia patients, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients and asthma patients. We are seeing more this year though it's difficult to know if all of the causes are related to wildfire, " said Myndi Christopher, registered respiratory therapist, who has worked at The Memorial HospitalThe Memorial Hospital for eight years. for eight years.
The Memorial Hospital for eight years.
According to National Jewish Health, smoke can worsen symptoms for people with preexisting respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies and COPD.
Additionally, particulate-laden smoke can also worsen cardiac disease as inhaled particles trigger the release of chemical messengers into the blood, which may increase the risk of blood clots, angina episodes, heart attacks and strokes. People with chronic cardiac conditions are more susceptible to chest pain, heart attacks, cardiac arrhythmias, acute congestive heart failure or stroke, according to National Jewish Health.
Even people without lung or cardiac disease may become symptomatic if the smoke is thick enough however, "for most healthy people, low amounts of wildfire smoke are more unpleasant than a health risk," Pacheco said in a news release.
People with existing conditions and healthy people exposed to smoke should be on the lookout for certain symptoms.
"If you have COPD, asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and you have inhaled smoke from wildfire you should probably see a doctor as soon as possible. If you are normally healthy, and you have hoarseness of voice, difficulty breathing, persistent cough, headache and mental confusion you should see a doctor right away," Christopher said.
With the school year starting before wildfire season ends, it is important to pay special attention to wildfire smoke where children are playing.
"Children are especially susceptible as they often play outside more and breathe faster so they inhale more smoke into their lungs. Keep them inside on hazy days and ensure if they have existing conditions that they take their medications," Christopher said.
Northwest Colorado Health (formerly Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association)Northwest Colorado Health (formerly Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association) recommends that people with compromised lungs or lung conditions check daily Colorado air quality reports and advisories by visiting colorado.gov/airquality and take precautions to limit time outdoors, close windows, take medications and inhalers as prescribed. recommends that people with compromised lungs or lung conditions check daily Colorado air quality reports and advisories by visiting colorado.gov/airquality and take precautions to limit time outdoors, close windows, take medications and inhalers as prescribed.
Northwest Colorado Health (formerly Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association) recommends that people with compromised lungs or lung conditions check daily Colorado air quality reports and advisories by visiting colorado.gov/airquality and take precautions to limit time outdoors, close windows, take medications and inhalers as prescribed.
The Centers for Disease ControlCenters for Disease Control offers additional tips on their website for decreasing your risk from wildfire smoke: offers additional tips on their website for decreasing your risk from wildfire smoke:
Centers for Disease Control offers additional tips on their website for decreasing your risk from wildfire smoke:
- Keep indoor air as clean as possible if you are advised to stay indoors. Keep windows and doors closed. Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter in a designated evacuation center or away from the affected area.
- Avoid activities that increase indoor pollution. Burning candles, fireplaces, or gas stoves can increase indoor pollution. Vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home, contributing to indoor pollution. Smoking also puts even more pollution into the air.
- Prevent wildfires from starting. Prepare, build, maintain and extinguish campfires safely. Comply with local regulations if you plan to burn trash or debris. Check with your local fire department to be sure the weather is safe enough for burning.
- Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores are designed to trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from the small particles found in wildfire smoke.
- Consider evacuating the area if you are having trouble breathing. Listen to the news to learn about current evacuation orders. Follow the instructions of local officials about when and where to evacuate. Take only essential items with you. Follow designated evacuation routes, others may be blocked, and expect heavy traffic.
Andrea Holland is a Wildfire Incident Air Resource Advisor and is a part of a team of experts that use a number of tools to determine "when smoke from a wildfire is impacting down wind communities.”
According to Holland, Colorado is predicted to have normal wildfire potential through October. That is not the case for all western states; for example, California has high wildfire potential through October. "The smoke impacts on Northwest Colorado will depend on transport winds that are difficult to predict," Holland said.
When wildfire smoke drifts into the community health care providers are ready to help.
"We are a rural area and the standard of care includes breathing treatments, steroids, and possibly antibiotics for pneumonia that can be caused by smoke. We do pulmonary function tests here to help diagnose some types of lung damage. In severe cases we have to ship patients off as we are unable to offer some advanced procedures to help patients who more critical conditions," Christopher said.
Northwest Colorado Health advises that if symptoms are serious contact a healthcare provider. National Jewish Health offers a registered nurse for help with respiratory health questions call the Lung Line at 800.222.5864.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @CDP_Education.