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The health effects of poor air quality

A Wednesday screenshot of the air quality map.
A Wednesday screenshot of the air quality map.

The smoke from Canadian wildfires has made air quality unhealthy. An Air Quality Alert is in effect through Thursday.

HSHS Medical Group pulmonologist Dr. Brian Reichardt said some individuals may especially feel the effects.

“People can see that it looks smoggy in the air but may not realize the affect wildfire smoke can have on the lungs, especially for older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions. If there is enough smoke in the air, it can affect someone who is healthy if they are exposed to it long enough,” he said.

Reichardt said a visit to the doctor, or even the emergency room, could be necessary.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including:

* Coughing
* Trouble breathing normally
* Stinging eyes
* A scratchy throat
* Runny nose
* Irritated sinuses
* Wheezing and shortness of breath
* Chest pain
* Headaches
* An asthma attack
* Tiredness
* Fast heartbeat


The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in Springfield forecasts Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (USG) conditions for fine particulate matter on Thursday, June 29th.

Smoke from wildfires in Canada continues in the region, pushing air
quality into the unhealthy or worse categories. Air Quality Index (AQI) forecasts and levels can normally be found at AirNow.gov, but
the unique widespread nature of this episode prompted this additional NWS alert.

Sensitive individuals, including people with heart or lung disease,
older adults, children and teenagers, minority populations, and
outdoor workers, should avoid long or intense outdoor activity.

Everyone else should reduce long or intense outdoor activity and
take more breaks.

Those whose age or health conditions such as asthma puts them in a higher-risk category are encouraged to limit their exposure as much as possible. Here are some tips from the CDC to protect your health:

  • Pay attention to local air quality reports and the US Air Quality Index at airnow.gov. Pay attention to public health messages and take extra safety measures such as avoiding spending time outdoors.

  • If you are told to stay indoors, stay indoors and keep your indoor air as clean as possible. Keep windows and doors closed unless it is very hot outside. 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. Seek shelter elsewhere if you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed.

  • Use an air filter. Use a freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal to help protect people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions and the elderly and children from the effects of wildfire smoke. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on filter replacement and where to place the device.

  • Do not add to indoor pollution. When smoke levels are high, do not use anything that burns, such as candles and fireplaces. Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home. Do not smoke tobacco or other products, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.
  • Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or another lung disease or cardiovascular disease. Call your doctor if your symptoms worsen.

  • Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke. An “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. If you decide to keep a mask on hand, see the Respirator Fact Sheet provided by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

For more information on protecting yourself during low air quality days, visit cdc.gov/disasters/wildfires/smoke.html

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