Smoke causes increase in patients seen at local clinics

By Marlys Good

Smoke from the wildfires burning across the entire western portion of the United States including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming and our neighbor to the north, Canada, has caused a dense haze to settle across the Big Horn Basin that hasn’t lifted for over two weeks. Along with the haze there is the smell of smoke that is more prevalent in the early morning hours when the air is cooler.

The smoke-filled air has caused health problems that have increased the patient load at both the Midway and Big Horn clinics.

Family Health Practitioner Mary Freund at Midway Clinic said dense smoke has triggered an increase of visits to the clinic by people with lung conditions, especially COPD and asthma.

Treatment varies patient to patient, but medications are monitored and perhaps increased according to need.

The smoke can cause sinus problems, which can be relieved with the use of nasal sprays i.e. “nasal irrigation or regular nasal sprays.”

Another problem can be dry eyes; this can often be relieved by the use of allergy or hydrating eyedrops.

Kristi L. Bonnel-Phillips, PAC at the Big Horn Clinic in Basin, said the smoke “is hard on those” with COPD and asthma. Treatment differs from patient to patient and depends on the severity of the condition. It could include an increase in allergy medications, use of steroids and/or an increase in nebulizer treatments.

While COPD and asthma are more often mentioned, people with allergies are also adversely affected by the dense smoke. Phillips said the smoke, which includes burning pine and sagebrush, triggers allergic reactions.

Also included in the risk factor are people with chronic heart disease or diabetes.

Both Freund and Phillips emphasized that anyone who has an increase in coughing, wheezing, chest discomfort, difficulty in breathing should see their doctor as soon as possible to avoid  “a worsening of their condition” which could lead to bronchitis or pneumonia.

For young athletes involved in outdoor sports, Freund said her advice is not too push them as hard, take it easy, and if the smoke is too dense, to practice indoors if possible.

Athletes who have asthma or allergies should make sure they have their “rescue inhalers“ on hand.

Freund noted that the extended period of smoke-filled skies that have obscured the sun, clouds, the mountains has affected people’s moods. “They are not as happy,” she noted.

At-risk people who live closer to the smoke are advised to stay indoors as much as possible, close the windows and turn the air conditioner on (make sure the filter is clean).

Both Freund and Bonnel-Phillips emphasized the importance of staying hydrated, whether you are indoors or outdoors, active or inactive.

Anyone who has problems with, or questions about, any of the above should contact a health care professional.

According to a report released Monday, 109 large fires have burned more than 1.9 million acres nationally and more than 27,300 firefighters, support personnel, members of the National Guard and military soldiers have been involved in fighting the fires.

Out West we don’t say, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  We say, “Where there’s fire, there’s smoke” — and way too much of it.



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