Weather Wednesday: How wildfire smoke can impact Michiganders

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Second to the mosquitoes, wildfire smoke has been a topic of conversation across Mid-Michigan as hazy skies continue to drift from coast to coast.

While the drifting smoke may produce some gorgeous scenery, it can have a negative effect on those with underlying or chronic respiratory conditions.

The StormTracker 6 team has been asked how the wildfire smoke overhead can impact those susceptible to poor air quality, so Meteorologist Blake Harms turned to the experts to learn more on if the smoke is really having an effect on those in Mid-Michigan.

Dr. Corey O’Brien, a pulmonologist at Sparrow Hospital, says the smoke has kept them busy over the past few weeks.

“Every now and then with these really severe wildfires like we’ve been seeing, we notice an uptick in acute patient visits that we feel like are probably related to the extra particulate matter that’s in the air as a result of these large fires,” O’Brien said.

He stresses that most of the patients seen in his office have a history of chronic illness.

“Occasionally, even healthy people will have minor symptoms like irritation to their eyes, tearing, maybe a little upper respiratory like some nasal and maybe throat irritation. But healthy people usually can get through that okay. It’s really people that already had pre-existing chronic cardiac and lung disease that tend to have more of the issues.”

The issues, he explains, are often flare-ups of their existing symptoms.

“Specifically what I’ve been seeing is patients with severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a tobacco-related lung disorder, they have a real difficult time. They have increased symptoms of cough, shortness of breath, chest pressure, and it can be quite significant on these poor air quality days,
O’Brien said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new group of people susceptible to poor air quality, like from wildfire smoke.

“There’s a lot of people struggling with post-COVID syndrome. Some of them are on oxygen. They certainly have persistent symptoms of shortness of breath and they have some of the exact same sensitivities on these poor air quality days, high humidity, the ozone action days, these wildfires and the extra stuff that’s dumping into the environment doesn’t help them at all. It’s just an added burden.”

Now, Dr. O’Brien advises those with underlying conditions to keep a close eye on air quality, and stay indoors if possible during days with dense wildfire smoke. If that’s not possible, he recommends you keep a close eye on your symptoms and be sure to seek medical counsel if it becomes necessary.

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