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For most people: wildfire smoke symptoms more annoying than dangerous

lg fire nifc 2016-11-11


A USDA Map shows active forest fire throughout the Southeast as of November 11.

        Wildfires that have burned thousands of acres in north Georgia’s Cohutta Wilderness Area are sending blankets of smoke to surrounding counties. According to medical professionals, everyone should be on guard but sensitive groups should take most precaution.

         If you have an underlying lung disease Dr. Tamim Al-Kharrat of North Georgia Pulmonary Medicine in Jasper advises his patients to take similar precautions as they would with heavy smog – more common in urban areas.

For regular smog, a Code Orange Alert Day means the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups, including children, or older adults, and people with heart or lung disease. These groups should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.


         “We advise these patients stay at home or indoors, keep windows closed to preserve air quality and keep on the air conditioner or fan,” said Dr. Al-Kharrat. “They should not exercise outdoors when conditions are smoky.”

         He said parents should take special care with children and toddlers under two who are more sensitive and, if exposed for long periods of time, could develop long-term damage. Children over two are still considered sensitive and could develop symptoms associated with asthma, but will not develop permanent damage.

         “And wearing a mask will not help,” Dr. Al-Kharrat said. “It does not prevent the smoke particles from passing through. You would need to have a respirator with a fan.”

         Dr. Al-Kharrat said he has had office visits from both patients with underlying lung conditions, some of whom needed medication adjustments, as well as from healthy patients who have developed allergy-like symptoms, shortness of breath and coughing.   

         “But I think at this point we are going to be okay,” Dr. Al-Kharrat said. “We don’t have the wind and the humidity that would worsen the issue.”  

          For people in areas affected by wildfire smoke who are not in a sensitive group both Dr. Al-Kharrat and primary care Dr. Carl McCurdy said being practical is the best approach. 

         “Use common sense,” Dr. McCurdy said. “If it’s smoky outside you probably want to wait to exercise. Personally, the smoke gives me a headache. For healthy people it’s an annoyance and kind of a first world problem, but definitely dangerous for people with a preexisting lung condition.”

         The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said symptoms of breathing smoke from a wildfire, which is a mix of gasses and particles from burning vegetation, can cause coughing, trouble breathing, stinging eyes, a scratchy throat, runny nose, irritated sinuses, wheezing and shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, an asthma attach, tiredness and a fast heartbeat. In addition to recommending stay indoors when cautioned to and keeping air as clean as possible by keeping doors and windows closed and running the air conditioner, the CDC recommends:

         • Watching for new or health warnings about smoke to stay informed about actions that need to be taken.

          • Following your doctor’s advice about medicines and about your respiratory management plan if you have asthma or a lung disease, and to call your doctor is symptoms worsen.

         • Avoiding smoke exposure during outdoor recreation.