Poor air quality causes uptick in ER visits

As smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts South and lingers over the Northland, some have dealt with health complications and local emergency rooms are seeing more patients.

“We are definitely seeing an uptick and respiratory presentations here in the emergency department because of this,” said Dr. Chris Delp, Emergency Medicine Physician with Saint Luke’s in Duluth. “And we’re going to expect to continue to see an uptick and these kind of respiratory exacerbations during this time also.”

Strangely, doctors are seeing more than just respiratory symptoms in some patients.

“One of the more interesting things that we see as a result of these sorts of things is an increase of other kinds of diseases like cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Delp. “Specifically, we see an uptick in heart attacks after being exposed to really high levels of these particulates.”

Those groups who are most vulnerable to particulate in the air from wildfire smoke include the very young and the very old, as well as anyone with chronic lung disease, people with COPD, asthma or any kind of chronic lung condition.

One Duluth family was forced to spend the day inside because of the bad air.

“Today I was hoping to be, like, outside playing and we haven’t even left the house yet,” said Sophie Spihar, a teacher at East High School. And we’re still, like, not feeling great. So that’s kind of a bummer.” Everybody slept in a little bit later and then about 20 minutes before the kids woke up, I was just like, ‘Oh, my eye is so itchy. Why is my eye itchy?’ And then, like, my other one was kind of scratchy, too. And then my son walked into the room and his eyes were nearly puffed shut. This is new territory for me. Up until today, I hadn’t had a point where I needed to stay inside because of the air quality. But yeah, if this is what this is as good as it gets–staying inside and kind of hiding from it–yeah, I can’t imagine going camping much or like biking. We like to bike a lot and swim and go to the beach and lots of outdoor play. But yeah, if this is what happens, I don’t know what we’ll be able to do.”

Dr. Delp said there are ways to try and mitigate symptoms, and protect your health.

“So masking does filter out quite a few of these particulates preventing them from getting down deep into the lungs and causing those kind of inflammatory problems,” said Dr. Delp. So one of the things that has been shown to be a benefit is an air purifier within the house, because bad air outside also equals bad air inside. And those air purifiers will remove a lot of those dangerous particles. And you’re right, this is going to be a season long problem. And so it would be worth your investment, especially in those sensitive populations, to invest in an air purifier.”

“I think that we’re all just dealing with really unforeseen and unknowable challenges that are going to keep presenting themselves as a result of this climate change,” said Spihar. “It’s like I think far more things will be impacted than we are realizing. And we’re just learning to understand the extent of what’s going on, what we’re going to have to adapt to.”