Anchorage health care providers see more respiratory complaints with wildfire smoke

Heavy smoke from the Swan Lake Fire contributes to traffic delays on the Sterling Highway on June 21, 2019. (Photo credit Alaska Division of Forestry)

Anchorage health care providers have seen more patients with respiratory problems in recent days because of poor air quality.

Jeffrey Demain is with the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska and practices in Anchorage. He says the wildfire smoke can cause lung irritation for anyone.

“The lung is going to try to decrease the effects of those particulates,” Demain said, “so one of the ways the lungs will do that is make more mucous so that even someone without a respiratory disease is going to be coughing.”

Center staff are advising patients with pre-existing respiratory problems to drink more fluids, use rescue inhalers as needed and minimize heavy activity especially outdoors. They are also recommending wearing a P95 respirator mask while outdoors if the air quality is at an unhealthy level.

Demain says anyone experiencing shortness of breath, chest tightness or noisy breathing should seek medical attention.

“When you hear wheezing, that’s because the airways have swollen,” Demain said. “They’re probably going to be experiencing more mucus production, and that can become hazardous and problematic even for people without respiratory disease.”

A spokesperson with Providence Alaska Medical Center says their emergency department staff is seeing a similar up tick in patients coming in with respiratory complaints.

Alaska Native Medical Center reports no increase in respiratory cases at this time.

Air quality advisories can be found on the DEC website.

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