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Smoking forests can be hazardous to your health, health service says

Donna Daniels

As the Spring Creek Fire continues to grow outside New Castle, smoke from wildfires in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona continues to hang in a pall over Garfield County.

The Garfield County Public Health Service issued a health advisory Wednesday warning people about the hazards of prolonged exposure to smoke.

It advises people with respiratory or other health problems to stay indoors or relocate temporarily to get away from the smoke.

With smoke conditions changing from day to day, and sometimes hour to hour, it’s best to keep an eye on the sky, said county public health nurse Mary Meisner.

“It’s important for people to keep an eye out for what’s going on around them. It can quickly change. The winds kick up between 2 to 6 p.m.,” she said.

Anyone feeling the effects of the smoke should stay indoors.

“Persons located in areas where they can smell smoke and who are beginning to experience symptoms like coughing, and eye, nose or throat irritation should move indoors and stay there with the windows closed, as long as it is safe to do so,” said the health advisory from the county public health service.

“Children and adults affected by smoke also can reduce their exposure by decreasing outdoor activity. If symptoms persist even when indoors, consider temporarily relocating to another area away from the fire and smoke.”

The most sensitive populations are the elderly, the very young – especially children seven years and under – and people with existing health conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and heart or circulatory problems. People with respiratory problems such as colds or the flu are also vulnerable.

“Smoke can trigger attacks and symptoms associated with these ailments sooner than usual, especially when individuals are exerting themselves,” the advisory said.

People with persistent symptoms, including coughing, headaches, chest tightness or pain, wheezing or whistling in the chest, difficulty breathing or nausea should contact their health care provider.

New Castle physician Dr. Dennis Eicher has the following recommendations to minimize the symptoms from smoke exposure:

1. If you are experiencing breathing problems, which are out of the ordinary for you, contact your medical doctor or emergency department. Do not wait.

2. Close windows and doors. Use inside fans to move air inside your house. This minimizes smoke exposure inside the house and decreases the entrapment within a confined area.

3. Keep your humidifier running to moisturize the inside air. Be sure it is cleaned daily.

4. Stay inside if possible to minimize exposure to the smoke.

5. Do not exercise outside or perform heavy labor if at all possible.

6. If you have asthma, starting preventive inhaler treatments including steroid inhalers may be of benefit to decrease the irritation from the smoke. Contact your doctor if you need help with these. Keep inhalers and nebulizer treatments handy at all times if you have them. If you perform peak flow measurements, keeping tract of your peak flow may help your doctor and you with your respiratory status.

7. If your eyes are irritated from the smoke, use lubricating or moisturizing eye drops frequently, especially before bed. Try not to use Visine or other whitening drops unless directed by your doctor. If your eyes are staying irritated, you need to see your health care provider.

8. Wash your face and hands after coming in from outside. Try to change clothes if you have been outside for a while to decrease the transfer of ash and possible allergens to your house.

9. Your scratchy throat may be from the smoke and sinus drainage. Using saline nose spray (over the counter) frequently and drinking lots of water will help with your sore and irritated throat.

10. Try not to hang clothes, especially bed linens and towels, outside if you have allergies.

If you are having unusual health problems due to the smoke, contact your physician’s office immediately.

For more information about the public health advisory, call the county public health service at 384-5002 or 625-2870.


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