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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. (September 15, 2020) – As wildfires continue to burn across western U.S. states with smoke spreading across a large portion of the country, those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma need to be alert to the effects of smoke on their breathing.
Allergist J. Allen Meadows, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, says it’s important for everyone – but especially children and those who suffer from asthma and other respiratory illnesses - to stay indoors in order to not be exposed to smoke from the fires.
According to Dr. Meadows, “Smoke from fires is a dangerous irritant to the eyes and respiratory system. It can make heart conditions and lung diseases like asthma worse. Children are especially vulnerable because their lungs are less developed, and they are closer to the ground, and thus more likely to take in more smoke.”
Dr. Meadows points out that if you smell smoke you should do your best to stay inside. If you have asthma, make sure you are keeping it under control with proper use of your medications, and consult your allergist if are having difficulty breathing. He also recommends that, if you are still able to grocery shop, buy groceries you won’t need to cook. Frying or grilling especially can make indoor air pollution worse.
If you must go outside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you should not rely on dust masks or cloth masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores trap large particles like sawdust. They aren’t useful against smoke. In addition, the cloth masks many people are using as a safeguard from COVID-19 will not protect your lungs from smoke. An N95 mask, properly worn, will offer some protection.
For those near areas where wildfires are burning, be sure to always have a supply of your asthma medications ready to go with you. For those who need to evacuate from home and go to a shelter, be sure to let officials know about anyone in your family who has asthma.
Once the wildfires and smoke have been controlled, continue to watch for any asthma symptoms. Contact your healthcare provider if you have trouble breathing, shortness of breath, a cough that won’t stop, or other symptoms that do not go away. Call 9-1-1 or go right away to an emergency department for medical emergencies.