On Wednesday, June 7, people across the Lehigh Valley and beyond woke up to hazy, smoky skies and some reported smelling smoke. Jennifer Logan, MD, pediatric pulmonologist at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children's Hospital answers common questions about the phenomenon.
Holy Smokes! Canadian Wildfires Impact Region's Air Quality
Find out the do’s and don’ts during this period of poor air quality
What is going on?
As the saying goes, “where there's smoke, there's fire.” The smoke that we are seeing and smelling is the result of hundreds of wildfires in central Canada. The smoke contains contaminants, resulting in poor air quality in much of the northeastern United States. This can pose health risks for some people with certain health conditions.
Who is at risk?
Vulnerable populations, including children and the elderly, and those with chronic respiratory or cardio-respiratory disease, including asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, COPD, emphysema and interstitial lung diseases, are most likely to be impacted.
What are the long and short term health risks?
The tiny particles and contaminants in the air can cause short-term issues in those with pre-existing conditions; for example, an asthma “flare-up” in a patient with asthma. Because the air quality is expected to improve rather quickly, long-term health impacts are not likely.
What precautions can you take?
Number one, especially if you are high risk, limit your time outside and do not exercise outside until the air quality improves. I would also recommend keeping your windows closed and making sure your air filters are clean. If you can smell the smoke, then you are likely breathing it in as well.
If you must be outdoors, be mindful of your body. If you are noticing symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing or your eyes are burning, take a break and go indoors.
An N95 mask can be worn to help filter out the particulate matter that is in smoke; however, N95s will not fit most children correctly and should not be worn if the fit is not appropriate. Other masks will not be as protective and may actually collect particulate matter.
If you or your child has asthma, I would recommend following the action plan established with your pulmonologist or pediatrician. This may include using a rescue inhaler, such as albuterol, to help relieve symptoms. Make sure to always use a spacer device with your inhaler, if instructed by your physician.
If you or someone you know is having trouble breathing or experiencing a cough that won’t stop, contact your provider. If you are experiencing respiratory distress, go to your closest emergency room or ExpressCARE.
Should I limit outdoor exercise activities?
Yes. When exercising, we inhale air faster and deeper, which will result in an increased amount of particulate matter being inhaled. Because the air quality is poor, I would recommend against exercising outdoors to avoid triggering respiratory symptoms.