Doctors warn of poor air quality health effects as smoke from Canadian bushfires blows across East Coast

A thick haze conquering the skies of much of the northeastern United States has prompted numerous cities to urge people to stay indoors, and for good reason. THE smoke from fires in Canada it has increased air pollution to levels that could cause health problems for exposed people, especially people from vulnerable groups.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, smoke from wildfires is a “complex mixture” of pollutants that can cause anywhere from minor to severe health effects. This is because the particulate matter within the smoke irritates the respiratory system, affecting the body’s ability to function even among those who are healthy, and even a short-term exposure of just a few days can have serious repercussions.

‘Sensitive groups’, including children, the elderly, pregnant people and people with pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular problems, are the most vulnerable to these impacts.

“The particulate matter in this haze is significant because it irritates the bronchial tubes, the little tubes that go down into the lungs and connect to the alveoli, which are the sacs that allow you to breathe,” Dr. Bob Lahita, a rheumatologist, said. he told CBS News, saying that anyone from sensitive groups should avoid going outside.

According to the National Weather Service, “poor air quality can be dangerous.” Here’s what to look out for.

Headache, irritation and fatigue

Among the milder symptoms when it comes to the health effects of poor air quality are headaches, sinus and eye irritation, and fatigue. While not as severe as other potential effects, they could cause significant discomfort or worsen other impacts.

“If you look at your car this morning and it’s been parked outside and there’s a thin layer of soot on top of your car, well, often it’s going to be inside your lung, inside your chest,” Lahita said. “And that’s a big deal. A lot of people can’t tolerate it and will be coughing and sneezing all day.”

Breathing problems

Those with pre-existing respiratory problems, including asthma, are more susceptible to the impacts of poor air quality fueled by wildfires. Difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, sore throats, bronchitis, reduced lung function, coughing and chest pains are all health effects of fire smoke and poor air quality. And according to the EPA, it often leads to an “increased risk” of emergency room visits.

You don’t have to be in a direct line of fires to have those impacts.

“Pollution from wildfire smoke can go up to 14 miles into the air and then be carried by wind currents, which is why it affects everyone,” Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Neha Solanki said in 2021. “So even if you don’t live directly next to the fires, you’re still exposed to all that toxic pollution.”

More than 9.3 million acres have been “charred” by dozens of ongoing wildfires in Canada, The Weather Channel’s Stephanie Abrams said on “CBS Mornings” Wednesday. And the smoke that has since drifted across the United States”it might last for a while.”

“There will be heavy smoke pollution through at least Saturday, especially in the Northeast,” he said.

Cardiovascular problems

Similar to respiratory problems, pre-existing cardiovascular problems are also a concern when it comes to air quality. Heart failure, heart attack and stroke are all possible when exposed to poor air quality, even for short periods of time. Chronic heart problems, such as congestive heart failure and high blood pressure, have been linked to premature death.

Weakened immune system

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there is evidence that smoke inhalation weakens the immune system.

“We breathe in smoke and it enters our bloodstream,” Dr. Solanki said. “Then the particles stick to a location in our body and the immune system kicks in and can create an inflammatory response.”

In 2021, a Harvard study found that thousands of COVID cases and deaths in California, Oregon and Washington could be linked to increased air pollution from smoke from wildfires.

How bad is the air quality?

On Wednesday, CNYwhich typically scores “good” on the Air Quality Index, ended up with one of the highest amounts of air pollution in global cities monitored at a level considered “unhealthy” by national standards.

Much of the Northeast was below the same “unhealthy” level Wednesday morning, according to federal monitoring, with some areas — including parts of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland reaching “very unhealthy” levels, the which means that the general population, not just sensitive groups, is susceptible to health impacts.


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