Even when fires burn outside our area, the air quality in the region can reach dangerous levels. Our expert explains how to maintain your lung health when fire season strikes.
It’s a sight we know all too well as northern Nevadans — a hazy or thick layer on the horizon when smoke rolls in from nearby fires.
Sometimes the smoke is more evident than others, but it’s important to remember, even when the smoke may not be as visible across the valley, it still impacts our air quality. The last week or so, our air quality has been in the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” range, which can be dangerous for people who are sensitive to air pollution.
Air Quality Changes: Who’s at Risk?
Renown Pediatric Pulmonologist Sonia Budhecha, M.D., explains certain people are especially at risk when smoke moves in:
- Older people, whose lungs are not as healthy as they used to be
- Young children, whose lungs are still developing
- People with heart and lung disease including asthma, COPD and emphysema
“Smoke and haze from fires carry particulates that can get into your respiratory system and eyes, which can be a danger for all ages,” Dr. Budhecha says.
How You Can Protect Yourself
Until the smoke clears and the air returns to the “good” range, it is best to follow these tips to protect yourself and your family:
- Stay indoors and keep windows closed
- Turn on the air conditioning to recirculate clean air
- Drink plenty of fluids to help your body flush out any toxins you inhale
Additionally, all community members should reduce their physical activity and try to prevent heavy exertion outside. If you or a loved one has a heart or lung disease, avoid physical exertion altogether because smoke can aggravate these conditions.
“People with heart disease may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations or fatigue,” Dr. Budhecha says. “People with lung disease may also have shortness of breath, chest discomfort, wheezing, phlegm or a cough.”
Smoky Signs and Symptoms
Smoke can also impact healthy people — irritating your eyes, nose or throat. And in some cases, inhaling smoke can lead to bronchitis.
When haze moves into our area, keep an eye out for these symptoms:
- Burning or stinging eyes
- Runny nose
- Cough or scratchy throat
- Shortness of breath
- Difficult taking a full breath
- Chest heaviness
If experiencing any of the above symptoms, seek medical attention or call your doctor for advice.
Sometimes, these symptoms do not appear for as long as 24 to 48 hours after smoke inhalation.
For those that have pre-existing lung or heart conditions, consult with a health care provider on action or management plans. To schedule an appointment Visit Renown Pulmonary Medicine, or call 775-982-5000.
Understanding Our Air Quality
The Air Quality Index (AQI) is broken down by large (PM10) and small (PM2.5) particulates.
According to Dr. Budhecha, large particulates are usually ones that can be seen and smelled. They can damage your eyes and nose but don’t often get deep in the lungs or blood vessels.
“The more dangerous ones are PM2.5, which can’t always be seen or smelled,” Dr. Budhecha says. “Any time the AQI is above 51, children with lung or heart disease should not be outdoors.”