Wild Fires Affect Lung Health

Wild Fires in California – Will These Fires Affect My COPD? Dear Dr. Mahler: I have moderate COPD and worry that the wild fires here in northern California are making it harder for me to breathe. The drought in the west has enabled wild fires to start, and the local papers report air pollution. I try to stay inside as much as possible, but I notice that my breathing has been more difficult the past week or so. What do you think?  Will  from Sacramento, CA Dear Sam: Sorry to hear of your problem with the wile fires. As you know, the blazes are  a direct result of the prolonged dry heat, and increase particulate matter (particles) in the air. The byproducts of smoke can drift for hundreds of miles as shown in the photos. The particles in the air can be  quite small at 1/30 the size of the diameter of hair. Their tiny size means that they can  bypass the nose and mouth and reach the lower parts of the lungs. This can cause the breathing tubes to narrow or constrict making it harder to breathe and cause coughing. Dr. James  Brown, a pulmonary physician who works at the VA in San Francisco, has reported an increase in the respiratory complaints brought on by the drought and wild fires.
wild fire in California

Wild fire in Lower Lake, California

I encourage you to pay close attention to reports of air quality where you live. If the pollutants are high in the air, take precautions like staying inside, rolling up car windows, make sure to take your inhalers regularly, and don’t hesitate to use albuterol as needed. Hopefully it will rain soon in these drought areas. Best wishes, Donald A. Mahler, M.D.

Donald A. Mahler, M.D. is Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire. He works as a pulmonary physician at Valley Regional Hospital in Claremont, NH, where he is Director of Respiratory Services.