• Printer Friendly Version
  • Decrease Text Size
  • Increase Text Size
  • PDF

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Dangers of a High AQI

Posted By: Advancing Care

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — even if you couldn’t see the flames from your home or office, many people in the northeastern United States experienced the effects of recent Canadian wildfires that sent plumes of smoke across the region. Multiple sources reported that Manhattan’s air quality significantly deteriorated in a matter of hours, leading authorities to announce an air quality health advisory alert for the city and much of New York State.

“The immense amount of smoke produced during these events can travel long distances, carried by wind patterns, and impact air quality in neighboring areas,” explains Barbara Chatr-Aryamontri, MD, a pulmonologist at WMCHealth. “When levels hit their peak, they posed a risk for multiple populations, especially the elderly, children and people with asthma, heart conditions and other health issues.”

Here’s what you need to know about air quality alerts, how these warnings can impact your health and what to do when future events occur.

Here’s what you need to know about air quality alerts

What is the Air Quality Index (AQI)?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the AQI to consolidate air pollution data from various monitoring stations into a single, easy-to-understand scale. This scale is divided into six categories, ranging from "good" to "hazardous," each corresponding to a specific range of pollutant concentrations.

“The AQI allows people to assess the current air conditions and take appropriate actions, such as limiting outdoor activities, using air purifiers or wearing masks when necessary,” says Dr. Chatr-Aryamontri.

I have asthma. What can I do to stay safe when air quality is poor?

Barbara Chatr-Aryamontri, MD
Barbara Chatr-Aryamontri, MD

Asthma, a chronic respiratory condition, causes people to become more vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollutants like wildfire smoke. The microscopic particles and toxic gasses present in smoke can worsen asthma symptoms and lead to respiratory distress. The fine particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs, especially during extended periods of exposure, triggering inflammation and respiratory complications.

Asthma sufferers face an increased risk of asthma attacks, breathing difficulties, wheezing, coughing and chest tightness. Air pollution can trigger acute symptoms and worsen the overall management of conditions like asthma and COPD. Additionally, people with pre-existing respiratory issues may experience more severe symptoms and prolonged recovery periods.

Given the persistent threat of wildfire smoke, it is crucial for asthma sufferers and healthcare professionals to take proactive steps in mitigating the risks. To help minimize exposure and reduce asthma complications during periods of increased smoke pollution, Dr. Chatr-Aryamontri recommends the following:

  • Stay informed: When natural disasters cause short-term spikes in poor air quality, monitor air quality reports and stay updated on local wildfire activity to anticipate potential risks and take necessary precautions.
  • Maintain a clean indoor environment: Keep windows and doors closed, use air purifiers or filters and consider wearing a high-quality mask, such as an N95 mask, specifically designed to filter out fine particulate matter. If you use a central-ducted air conditioning system that brings outside air into your home, close the fresh air intake to operate the system in recirculation mode to prevent outdoor smoke from entering your home.
  • Adhere to medication and treatment regimens: Ensure consistent use of prescribed medications, including inhalers and other asthma management techniques, as advised by your healthcare provider.
  • Seek medical guidance: If asthma symptoms persist or become unmanageable, consult a physician for appropriate guidance and adjustments to treatment plans.

The recent surge in wildfires across Canada serves as a stark reminder of the far-reaching public health consequences of these natural disasters. By staying informed, embracing preventive measures and working closely with your healthcare team, you can better manage your asthma and minimize the potential health risks associated with wildfire smoke.

For more information about WMCHealth’s pulmonary services, call 914.493.7518 to make an appointment with one of our specialists.