WASHINGTON, July 3 Dangerous air pollution resulting from wildfires poses lethal health hazards to people living and working in the surrounding areas. Residents with respiratory problems such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis and also those with chronic heart disease should take extra precautions during this time and call their physician immediately if problems develop.
"Even those without lung diseases are at risk during this time," said Norman Edelman, MD, Chief Medical Officer of the American Lung Association. "With the rising air pollution levels we are seeing in the affected areas, there is increased risk of coughing and wheezing, asthma attacks, as well as heart attacks and strokes, especially for older adults and outdoor workers. Take special care to protect children. They are more susceptible to smoke, because their respiratory systems are still developing."
The American Lung Association recommends people downwind of fire-stricken areas should stay indoors and avoid breathing heavy smoke or ash filled air. Those living in surrounding areas of the fires should avoid exercising outdoors, particularly if they smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation. When driving through smoky areas, car windows and vents should be kept closed. Air conditioning should be set to "recirculate" to avoid exposure to unhealthy outside air.
"People with respiratory problems and chronic heart disease are at greatest risk during this time," said Edelman. "Due to the extremely high levels of pollutants, many people may be experiencing increased symptoms and should contact their doctor promptly, especially those using oxygen. People using oxygen are strongly cautioned to not adjust their levels of intake without consulting their doctor first."
Those individuals with asthma are also encouraged to contact their physician regarding any changes in medication that may be needed to cope with smoky conditions. The American Lung Association advises asthma patients who cannot reach their doctor to continue to take their medication and closely follow their asthma action plan as prescribed.
People living near fire-stricken areas are encouraged to stay inside as much as possible, with doors, windows and fireplace dampers shut -- with clean air circulating through air conditioners and/or air cleaners. The American Lung Association reminds residents to use the recirculation setting on their home air conditioners to avoid outdoor air contamination, but warns against using whole house fans, which can bring in unfiltered outside air.
Ordinary dust masks, designed to filter out large particles should not be used as they still allow the more dangerous, smaller particles resulting from the fires to pass through. Disposable particle masks available at hardware and home supply stores can better help filter out harmful fine particles. Look for masks labeled "N95" or "P1000" that come with two straps, which can be adjusted to fit tightly on the face. It should be noted that these types of masks can be difficult for people with lung disease to use, so a doctor should be consulted before purchasing.
The volunteer response for clean up has been tremendous and is commended by the American Lung Association. At the same time, the Association advises clean up workers to use caution to protect their lungs. Areas covered in dust and soot should be thoroughly wet prior to clean up as a means to reduce further air pollutants. Workers should wear an N95 mask described above and replace it daily. Areas where asbestos and other hazardous materials are suspected should be avoided.
For more information on how to protect yourself during wildfires, please visit www.lungusa.org for timely advice and updates.
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