Those with Heart or Lung Disease Should Prepare for a Summer of Canadian Smoke
by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
"Most of us are aware of the poor air quality due to smoke drifting into the United States from wildfires burning in Canada," stated professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "This smoke can cause harm to individuals in multiple ways, including burning and irritated eyes and respiratory issues. It is especially hazardous for elderly individuals and those with chronic heart or lung disease."
"Although this has made the news because major cities like New York and Chicago have been affected, Canadian wildfires are not a new event. In fact, Canada has a wildfire season running from early April through October and is nature's way of clearing the forest for new growth. What is different this year is a weather phenomenon where low-pressure systems of the coast of Nova Scotia stall and spin, sending the smoke into the United States," said Attorney Connelly. "And according to meteorologists, this weather pattern may be with us through a good part of the summer, resulting in continued problems with the smoke conditions."
Warning from the American Heart Association
On June 28, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a press release warning those who have suffered a heart attack, stroke, or other forms of cardiovascular disease to pay attention to ever-changing conditions because of the wildfire smoke. In this release, they cited a warning from a cardiologist.
"The inhaled small particulate matter from smoke can cause inflammatory effects as well as a cardiovascular response to the stress, including changes in the blood vessels and increased heart rate and blood pressure," said Dr. Celina Yong, director of interventional cardiology at Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in California. "For people with underlying heart disease, this can trigger exacerbation of existing problems."
People with cardiovascular disease should check air quality reports every day when there is a concern for air pollution, said Yong, also an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University. "Pay attention to the instructions for sensitive individuals regarding whether it's safe to go outdoors."
Even with precautions, it's important to seek medical help when problems arise, Yong said. "If you have shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or persistent coughing, contact your health care provider," she said, adding that if you have symptoms of a heart attack or stroke, call 911 immediately.
Tips from the Centers for Disease Control
"The CDC has issued eight tips to help protect your health as the wildfire smoke problems persist," said Attorney Connelly. "I urge everyone at risk and seniors in particular to follow these recommendations."
Pay attention to local air quality reports - When a wildfire occurs in your area, watch for news or health warnings about smoke. Pay attention to public health messages and take extra safety measures such as avoiding spending time outdoors.
Pay attention to visibility guides if they are available. Although not every community measures the number of particles in the air, some communities in the western United States have guidelines to help people estimate air quality based on how far they can see.
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 your respiratory management plan if you have asthma, 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.
Avoid smoke exposure during outdoor recreation. Wildfires and prescribed burns—fires that are set on purpose to manage land—can create smoky conditions. Before you travel to a park or forest, check to see if any wildfires are happening or if any prescribed burns are planned.
Check Your Air Quality
"We have included a link to the real-time air quality map from AirNow, a government site that monitors air quality," stated Attorney Connelly. "Click on the map below and enter your zip code for an air quality report for your area."
"Right now, almost five hundred wildfires are burning in Canada, with half of them being considered out of control," said Attorney Connelly. "The most intense fires are burning in Ontario and Quebec, which are in eastern Canada where weather conditions are forcing the smoke to drift south. If forecasters are correct that the smoke will be with us well into mid-summer, those with conditions most affected must take the proper precautions."