Polluted air hazardous to patients with lung ailments | TheUnion.com

Polluted air hazardous to patients with lung ailments

As the air continues to remain smoky from wildfires in the region and chances of new thunderstorms loom on the landscape on Saturday, those with lung diseases are among the most vulnerable to health risks from the pollution.

Yet fatalities are unlikely, health practitioners said earlier this week.

“I have had at least four to five patients who got sick (Tuesday) with shortness of breath and wheezing as their asthma got worse,” said Kuldip Gill, a Grass Valley physician.

The emergency room at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital received about six patients Tuesday and four patients by noon Wednesday who complained of respiratory distress, hospital spokesman Craig Wilcox said.

The hospital took precautions to ensure the air inside the facility wasn’t contaminated.

“We have closed down the dampers to outside air and are just using the inside air here,” Wilcox said.

The quantity of ash in the air was in the hazardous level for most of this week, according to the Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District.

“It’s the worst I’ve seen in 15 years,” Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer Joe Fish said. “As a general rule of thumb … if you see smoke and smell smoke, you’re most likely breathing unhealthy levels of particulates.”

But staying indoors isn’t a fool-proof way to avoid inhaling polluted air, Fish said.

“If you’re bringing in outside air, you’ll bring in smoke,” he said. “If you only have an air-conditioner that recirculates the indoor air, you’re better off.”

People also should avoid working outdoors and outside activities like jogging in the smoky air, Gill said. They also could use air filters inside their homes, Gill added.

“One of my patients turned on her air filter, and there was black soot on the filter,” Gill said.

But the present smoky conditions are unlikely to have long-term effects on people’s health, Gill said.

“Once the weather clears up, your lungs should be able to start working normally again,” he said.

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail ssen@theunion.com or call 477-4229.

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