Wildfire Smoke Causing Poor Air Quality in Minnesota & Wisconsin
As devastating wildfires continue to ravage our country and Canada, the far-reaching impact of these infernos extends beyond the flames themselves. The smoke generated by wildfires poses a significant health risk to both nearby communities and those located hundreds of miles away, as many of us in the Twin Cities area have seen this year. In this blog post, we will explore the negative health effects of smoke from wildfires and poor air quality.
When wildfires burn, they release a toxic mix of fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, into the air. These tiny particles, measuring less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, can be easily inhaled and penetrate deep into the respiratory system. The inhalation of PM2.5 can lead to a range of health problems, including:
- Respiratory Issues: Smoke from wildfires can trigger or worsen respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The irritating particles can cause inflammation in the airways, leading to difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Many people experienced respiratory distress, chronic coughing, asthma, and fatigue from COVID-19, and are now experiencing a resurgence of these symptoms as the lungs are exposed to wildfire smoke.
- Cardiovascular Complications: PM2.5 can also have a detrimental impact on the cardiovascular system. The microscopic particles can enter the bloodstream through the lungs, increasing the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. Prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke has been linked to elevated blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.
Wildfire smoke consists of not only PM2.5 but also a complex mixture of harmful chemicals. Some of the major contributors include carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Exposure to these substances can have several adverse health effects.
- Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Inhaling carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless gas, can be life-threatening. It binds to hemoglobin in the blood, reducing its oxygen-carrying capacity and potentially leading to tissue damage or death in severe cases.
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): Volatile organic compounds are organic chemicals that easily vaporize at normal temperatures. Wildfire smoke contains various VOCs, including benzene, formaldehyde, toluene, and xylene. These compounds can have both short-term and long-term health effects, including eye and respiratory irritation, itchiness, sore throat, excessive coughing, chest tightness, headaches, and have potential carcinogenic properties.
- Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs): Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed during the incomplete combustion of organic matter. They are present in high levels in wildfire smoke and can adhere to particles in the air. PAHs have been associated with adverse health effects, including respiratory and cardiovascular issues, and some are considered carcinogenic to the lungs and other tissues.
- Nitrogen Oxides (NOx): Nitrogen oxides, such as nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitric oxide (NO), are released during wildfires due to the high temperatures reached during combustion. These gases contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, a harmful air pollutant. Exposure to nitrogen oxides can cause respiratory problems, particularly in individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
- Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs): Wildfire smoke can contain hazardous air pollutants, including formaldehyde, acrolein, and benzene. These substances are known for their toxic properties and can have both acute and chronic health effects. Prolonged exposure to HAPs can lead to respiratory issues, cardiovascular problems, and an increased risk of developing certain cancers.
Certain groups of people are particularly susceptible to the negative health effects of wildfire smoke. These vulnerable populations include:
- Children: Children have developing respiratory systems and breathe more air relative to their body weight than adults, making them more susceptible to the harmful effects of smoke. Exposure to smoke during critical developmental stages can have long-lasting consequences.
- Elderly Individuals: Older adults often have pre-existing health conditions, such as heart or lung diseases, that make them more vulnerable to the effects of smoke inhalation. They may experience more severe symptoms and a slower recovery process.
- Individuals with Chronic Conditions: People with pre-existing respiratory conditions, cardiovascular diseases, neurological disorders, or compromised immune systems face an increased risk of experiencing exacerbated symptoms or complications due to exposure to wildfire smoke.
Actions to Protect Your Lungs from Wildfire Smoke
While it may be challenging to completely avoid exposure to wildfire smoke, there are several steps individuals can take to protect their lungs and minimize the negative health effects:
Herbal Support: Many herbs provide powerful health benefits to the respiratory system. Our clinic carries a variety of herbal formulas to support the lungs including:
AirGen: Airgen helps reduce inflammation in the pharynx, larynx, and trachea in the upper respiratory tract. It also helps promotes blood flow to the upper respiratory tract, and repairs damaged tissue caused by the inflammation.
EZAir: EzAir also helps restore the inner lining of the respiratory tract in order to avoid over reactions to internal and external irritants or stimulants. EzAir has been helpful for people whose asthma has increased as a result of the wildfire smoke and poor air quality in the Twin Cities.
Breez: Blood vessel restriction can cause poor blood flow to the muscles in the upper body. Poor blood flow can cause poor nutritional support to the muscles of the upper body resulting in poor stamina. Breez helps alleviate blood restriction, and resume normal blood flow to the muscles of the upper body. This formula helps improve physical endurance that declined as a result of poor lung function.
These are just a few of the formulas we are using at Healing Response Acupuncture & Functional Neurology to help our patients in the Twin Cities and surrounding area to maintain good health in the face of poor air quality.
Stay Informed: Stay updated on local air quality reports, particularly the Air Quality Index (AQI). One source is AirNow: https://www.airnow.gov/ Pay attention to health advisories and take necessary precautions when the air quality is poor or when there are active wildfires in the area.
Create a Safe Indoor Environment: Keep doors and windows closed to prevent smoke from entering your home. Use air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters to improve indoor air quality. HATHASPACE provides filters for up to 2800 sq ft, and ones for smaller spaces up to 700 sq ft. Avoid activities that can introduce additional indoor pollutants, such as smoking, using harsh cleaning products, or burning scented candles or incense.
Limit Outdoor Activities: Reduce outdoor activities, especially during periods of heavy smoke. If you must be outside, try to schedule activities for times when the air quality is relatively better, such as early mornings. Wear a properly fitted N95 or N99 respirator mask to filter out harmful particles.
Hydrate and Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Drinking plenty of water helps to keep the respiratory system hydrated and can alleviate symptoms associated with smoke exposure. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, and getting enough rest to support overall respiratory health.
As wildfires become more frequent and intense due to factors like climate change, understanding the negative health effects of smoke is crucial. It is vital to stay informed about air quality conditions and take necessary precautions to minimize exposure, in addition to seeking out therapies that address an exacerbation of symptoms such as tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, coughing, sore throat, fatigue, muscle weakness, headaches, and asthma. If you would like further information on our herbal lung support, please contact us at 651-323-0005, or schedule online.