MONTEREY – The air in the Monterey Peninsula and Salinas area has been in the “unhealthy” area for the past few days thanks to wildfires raging along the coast and many may experience symptoms including headaches, sore throats and difficulty breathing due to it. .
But local medical officials say there are things to consider and actions to be taken to determine if medical care is needed.
Jeremy Hadland, RN, emergency department manager at Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, said there has been an increase in people seeking medical attention for respiratory problems from smoke exposure, mainly in the early days of the river and the Carmel fire.
But the Dolan fire near Big Sur, in addition to other fires around California, is contributing to ongoing fluctuations in air quality throughout the region, and many air monitoring stations in Monterey County have reached “unhealthy”
Over the next few days, south / southeast winds will push Dolan Fire smoke north toward the Monterey Peninsula and Salinas areas, said Robert Allen, event manager for the U.S. Forest Service.
“We have only seen a small increase in respiratory problems at Community Hospital on the Monterey Peninsula,” said Dr. Casey Grover, Community Hospital at Monterey Peninsula Medical Director. “When River Fire was active and we examined our emergency physicians and nurses, it was estimated that about 20 to 30 patients had been seen due to problems with smoke during River Fire. Note that this is a very informal estimate. ”
An “unhealthy” air quality level reflects the amount of particles in the air. It is a complex mixture that can contain soot, smoke, metals, nitrates, sulfates, dust water and tire rubber. Small particles known as PM2.5 or fine particles pose the biggest problems because they bypass the body’s natural defenses and can get deep into the lungs and potentially the bloodstream.
Smoke from forest fires contains chemicals, gases and fine particles that can harm health. Respiration in PM2.5 may reduce lung function, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing heart and lung diseases, and cause coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
“People present with general complaints … difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest. That’s when the hard work starts to figure out what’s causing it, ”Hadland said.
These symptoms are similar to what coronavirus causes when it strikes, and a pandemic tired public may first think that disease has infected them.
“Yes, we’ve seen a lot of people ask questions about what to do when they get short of breath after being exposed to smoke – free air during the coronavirus pandemic,” Grover said. “People are very concerned that they may not be able to tell the difference between COVID symptoms and exposure to smoke.”
Emergency rooms are quickly trying to get to the bottom of the issue to determine if it is from a contagious origin, especially with COVID-19 at the forefront or from smoke exposure or a myriad of other options.
“Smoke irritates the lungs. “People who already have pre-existing lung diseases such as asthma or emphysema will have exacerbations of these conditions, which may include coughing, difficulty breathing or wheezing,” Grover said. “For people who do not have pre-existing lung conditions, smoke is irritating and can also cause coughing, difficulty breathing or wheezing.”
People may ask themselves if they have been exposed to smoke, if they have smelled it, or if they have been outdoors in poor air quality.
Also for COVID, people may ask themselves if they have had any exposure, if they have been sheltered or worked from home. Without known exposure and stay at home, it is unlikely to be COVID, but healthcare professionals stressed that it is a good idea to seek medical attention to know what is happening or if the symptoms are getting worse.
“It is important through all of this that we continue to use masking, social distancing and hand hygiene to ensure that we reduce our risk of COVID,” Grover said.
But there is also a direct line between “unhealthy” air and cornona virus. Prolonged exposure to air pollution is known to damage lung function as well as cause many other adverse health effects. Since COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, researchers expect that pollution will make people more susceptible to getting the disease and then aggravate its outcomes.
“For any person, it’s best to get back to clean air once they are exposed to unhealthy air,” Grover said. “For example, a person who works outside and has symptoms of cough or difficulty breathing should work inside as much as possible. People can also look at the air quality index and if it is in the unhealthy area, exposure to outdoor air should be avoided. ”
Hadland said that healthy, young people who experience symptoms such as headaches, nausea or sore throat associated with smoke exposure, getting in and out of smoke should relieve these symptoms in a day or two.
But people with lung or heart disease may need more treatment than just getting out of the unhealthy air.
The Monterey Bay Air Resources District advises people at risk, those with heart or lung disease, older adults or people with children, to consult a physician beforehand about whether to leave an area or get to a place with a better indoor climate.
The Air Resources District reported that a low-pressure trough is keeping the marine layer around this week, and the smoke layer close to the ground. It is said to expect continued district-wide “unhealthy” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” air quality over the next few days.
See the Monterey Bay Air Resources District website (http://air.mbard.org/) for air quality index and visit Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare Systems (https://svmh.communitycovidinfo.com/) and the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula ( https://www.chomp.org/coronavirus/) for more information.