Bush fire smoke a health hazard

Bush fire smoke a health hazard

03 April 2010

published by www.newsday.co.tt

Trinidad/Tobago —    As large areas of the country remains blanketed in thick smoke from bush fires which have been raging in several areas during this harsh dry season, the Health Ministry has express concern over the effect this protracted smoke cover can have on the health and well being of people.

In a release yesterday, the ministry called on persons suffering with asthma to especially be careful to try and avoid areas with large bush fires since the concentration of smoke from these fires could exacerbate their medical problems.

The increase in bush fires in the past month has resulted in clouds of smoke filling the atmosphere which has placed persons with respiratory conditions at risk of harmful health reactions.

Over 2,000 bush fires have been confirmed by the Fire Services with large tracts of virgin forests in the hills of the northern range being reduced to nothing but smouldering ashes as fires have raged out of control for several consecutive days.

The ministry warned, these persons should take precaution to protect their health against conditions caused by smoke allergens. These include avoiding areas with smoke allergens if possible or otherwise closing or blocking windows, doors and other spaces where smoked-filled air could enter.

The ministry also advised on the use of air-conditioning if possible, keeping medication prescribed by a doctor for chronic respiratory conditions close at hand and seeking medical attention or leaving the smoke filled area if conditions worsen.

Immunologist Dr Michele Monteil told Newsday yesterday while persons suffering with any kind of respiratory condition should take all precaution against causing a flare-up of their conditions, asthma is the most common respiratory disease in Trinidad and Tobago.

She explained that smoke contains irritants which cause airways to restrict, limiting the amount of oxygen reaching the lungs of persons suffering with asthma.

“When persons with asthma try to exert themselves they experience shortness of breath and a feeling of tightness in their chest. If their airways are badly constricted, they will develop a wheeze which is a whistling sound heard when they try to breathe. They will also develop a cough as the smoke particles are irritants which the body will try to get rid of by increasing the production of mucus,” she explained.

Monteil said persons who are not suffering from asthma but are exposed to smoke may also develop a cough, congestion and may suffer with a sore throat.

In the case of an acute asthma attack, she said persons should seek medical attention as asthma can be deadly if untreated. “Death is not common but it is possible,” she said.

In addition to the ministry’s precautions, Monteil, added that persons who are very near to any fire should protect their mouths and noses to avoid inhaling the hot air since this could burn and cause damage to their airways.

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