PHOENIX (June 16, 2021) – As multiple wildfires across the state continue to cause unfortunate damage, Banner Health experts warn those who may have lung disorders -- such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) -- to take precautionary measures to protect their health from potential environmental exposures.
As the fires continue burning, an excessive heat warning was also issued for at least one week in central and southwestern Arizona, which could also trigger additional health concerns. An ozone high pollution advisory is in effect for many areas in Arizona.
Due to the smoky conditions caused by the wildfires currently burning in surrounding areas, including in Gila and Pinal County as well near Tonto National Forest, it’s important for residents to reduce their exposure to smoke.
Dr. Tara Carr, an allergist and immunologist at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, said three risk factors could be affecting those with lung disorders.
“With more particles being blown in from the wildfires, those same particles can be causing irritation and increasing mucus production,” said Dr. Carr. “And as the temperatures increase, so does ozone production, which can also cause irritation and other symptoms. We are also at the tail end of allergy season, where there is still a chance of pollen exposure.”
Dr. Carr shares that the best preventative measures to avoid potential environmental exposures are limiting your time outdoors and using daily preventative medication, such as inhalers, to manage symptoms and prevent worsening conditions.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these fine particles can penetrate deep into your lungs and cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose, to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases. Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death.
What to expect and do during a fire
- Be on alert: People might experience health symptoms from smoke, heat, fire and odors associated with the fire, even when visible smoke may not be present.
- Speak with your doctor to protect yourself: If you have heart, diabetes, vascular or lung disease, including asthma, talk with your health care provider to make plans. Discuss when to leave the area, how much medicine to have on hand, and your asthma action plan, if you have asthma. For emergencies, always call 911.
- Stay informed: People near the fire should follow the advice of first responders. In some cases, evacuation boundaries will be announced, and people will be given instructions on where to go during the event. In other cases, people may be advised to "shelter in place" (i.e., remain at home and keep doors and windows closed).
- Reduce exposure to smoke: During a fire, the doors and windows should remain closed to prevent smoke from entering. A respirator is a mask that fits tightly to your face to filter out smoke before you breathe it in. If you have a central air conditioning system, use high-efficiency filters to capture fine particles from smoke. If your system has a fresh air intake, set the system to “recirculate” mode or close the outdoor intake damper.
- Roll up your car windows: When driving your car in smoky areas, keep your windows and vents closed, and operate on "recirculate" setting, including when using air conditioning.
- Don't exercise outside: If you live close to or in the surrounding area, don't exercise outdoors, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.
Know when to seek medical attention: If symptoms are not relieved by the usual medicines, seek medical attention. Symptoms to watch for: wheezing, shortness of breath, difficulty taking a full breath, chest heaviness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. If you have any concerns or questions, please contact your physician.
Watch for breathing issues after exposure: If you develop a persistent cough or difficult or painful breathing, call your physician. The first symptoms can appear as late as 24 to 48 hours after exposure. Smoke can remain in areas for many days after the fires have ended.
For more information on local air quality regulations and the forecast for the Phoenix metropolitan area, please visit Arizona Department of Environmental Quality forecast website.
As one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the country, the team at Banner Health is committed to ensuring all Banner locations are a safe place for care. Headquartered in Phoenix, Banner Health owns and operates 28 acute-care hospitals and an array of other services, including Banner Imaging, Banner Telehealth, and Banner Urgent Care. Team members are dedicated to protecting the health and safety of patients, be it a routine checkup, elective surgery or an urgent health service. Waiting room and employee workstation layouts maintain proper social distancing; screenings are conducted at hospital entrances to verify that all employees and visitors are well; and, all Banner physicians are equipped to visit patients remotely. Learn more about Banner's commitment to safety at www.bannerhealth.com/safecare.