Contact: Asha Desai
Where There’s Smoke, Look Out for Breathing Problems
July 9, 2002 (DALLAS, TEX.) - The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) offers some words of wisdom for those in the northeastern United States who may be exposed to large amounts of air pollution because of the fires raging in northern Quebec: Where there's smoke, look out for breathing problems.
The smoky air, produced by the more than 50 forest fires burning in Quebec, Canada, could be a source of irritation even in those who are healthy, irritating the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat. However, people with lung diseases and conditions, such as asthma or emphysema, may have difficulty breathing as long as the smoke lingers in the air. The haze from the fires has affected much of the Northeast, including Michigan, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and parts of New York State.
Tom Kallstrom, RRT, FAARC, and chair of the AARC's Asthma Ad Hoc Committee, said that smoke is a trigger, or cause, of some asthma attacks and that those with asthma need to be on their guard.
"Avoid the smoke as much as possible," Kallstrom said, "By staying indoors. It is also wise to consult with your physician about your medication. Your physician may direct you to increase your medicines to reduce symptoms and to ward off an asthma attack."
Kallstrom also cautioned against excessive outside exercise in smoky or high air pollution conditions. "Smoke, whether it's from the fireplace or part of air pollution, is a known asthma trigger that can exacerbate the condition and lead to multiple trips to the doctor or emergency department."
"The keys," Kallstrom, who is the Department Director of Respiratory Care Services at Fairview Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, said, "are to keep in close contact with your physician and to avoid the smoke."
Those with asthma aren't the only ones at risk for worsening symptoms.
"People with chronic lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and other restrictive lung conditions may have difficulty breathing," said Frank Miller, RRT, Cardiodiagnostic and Respiratory Care Supervisor at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. The 50-miles wide fire in Arizona was finally contained yesterday.
As a matter of fact, anyone with a compromised ability to cough may be at risk for developing infections caused by breathing in the smoky air, Miller, the Arizona Society for Respiratory Care (ASRC) president, cautioned.
"Most people don't think of their ability to cough as a way to avoid lung infections," Miller said. "But without a good ability to cough you don't have the capacity to expectorate the excessive secretions produced by inhaling the smoke-filled air. Coughing helps you clear your lungs and avoid infection."
The American Association for Respiratory Care, a professional membership association of respiratory therapists, focuses primarily on respiratory therapy education and research. Its goals are to ensure that respiratory patients receive safe and effective care from qualified professionals and to benefit respiratory health care providers. The Association continues to advocate, on behalf of pulmonary patients, for appropriate access to respiratory services provided by qualified professionals.