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Wildfire Smoke Causes Drop in Air Quality, Impacts Health

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Katie Thoresen/WXPR
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Just looking outside, you can tell our air quality hasn’t been great for the past couple of weeks.

The sky hasn’t been as blue.

The sun turns bright orange in the morning and evening behind a veil of wildfire smoke.

You might also be feeling it in your body.

“I was actually really afraid of what’s wrong with my breathing, why am I short of breath when I’m such a healthy person and I take good care of myself and I don’t have asthma, I don’t have allergies. I felt the effects of it for sure,” said Sarah Schroeder. She’s a respiratory therapist with Aspirus Wausau Hospital.

While the air advisory has been in “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” category, anyone can feel the impact of the wildfire smoke.

Poor air quality due to wildfire smoke can cause shortness of breath, coughing, burning eyes, and chest pain.

Schroeder equates it pollen or other types of pollution. She said it’s important for people to know what can trigger symptoms.

“I know if I go outside in the fall during a certain time when a certain tree is budding, I’m going to avoid going outside and putting myself into that environment,” said Schroder. “Really educating yourself and just knowing what your triggers are is so important for everybody.”

The air quality levels in seen northern Wisconsin recently will likely have a greater impact on people with a pre-existing condition like asthma or COPD.

“Having exposure to pollution, it’s going to increase their symptoms. It’s going to cause flare ups. We’re going to see those patients more frequently who maybe have been very well controlled with their symptoms in the past, anytime they’re having that exposure they’re at a higher risk,” she said.

It’s not just people with lung or respiratory issues that need to be concerned.

The Journal of the American Heart Association found exposure to heavy smoke raises the risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests up to 70%.

We’re not seeing that level of smoke here, but even with the amount we are experiencing, there can be complications for those with pre-existing heart conditions.

“That’s one thing that with smoking. They always think, ‘Oh well if you smoke, you’re going to have terrible lung disease.’ But they don’t realize the cardiac effects that as you smoke, you’re vascular and everything changes,” Schroeder said. “You’re clogging your whole body up. You will end of having cardiac effects from it. Inhalation of any type of pollution can cause problems not only on your pulmonary system but your cardiac system as well.”

At our recent air quality index levels, spending a day outside breathing in this air is the equivalent to smoking nearly two cigarettes a day, according to the Berkley Earth’s rule of thumb.

Health officials recommend limiting your time outdoors on poor air quality days, especially if you’re in a sensitive group.

You can also wear a mask to limit the amount of smoke particles entering your system.

The DNR monitors air quality throughout the state. You can look at levels for yourself here

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