UPDATE: Many seeking protection from smoky conditions from wildfires
Erlanger Hospital has treated nearly 100 patients for shortness of breath since November 1st.
UPDATE: Erlanger Hospital has treated nearly 100 patients for shortness of breath since November 1st.
The hospital says they have treated 98 patients, the highest number of patients with this complaint was Thursday, November 10th with 15 patients compares to three weeks ago when there were five.
Erlanger says all shortness of breath complaints may not be attributed to the smoke in the area.
CHI Memorial has treated 96 people at its two emergency room locations (Chattanooga and Hixson) for breathing difficulties related to the smoke, since Friday. 37 of those have been treated since Sunday morning.
PREVIOUS STORY: Wildfires are still burning, which means the heavy smoke in the air is here to stay; for now.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued another code orange alert for bad air quality, Saturday morning.
An alert that hits home for Debra Fisher, who is struggling with the smoke, because of her irritant induced asthma and damaged olfactory nerves that impact her sense of smell.
"It's really limited what I can or can't do like kind of trapped me in my house," Fisher said. "It's an awful feeling when you're standing out there, and you can't smell the smoke that all of a sudden it feels like somebody has grabbed you around the throat and clamped down and now you can't get breath, and it's a terrible sensations because I don't have warning that it's gonna happen."
Fisher has tried to stay indoors as much as possible since the wildfires sparked, but goes outside frequently with the help of an N95 respiratory mask. It's a filtering face piece respirator, often used in hospital to protect against infectious agents, and cleans particles out of the air as you breathe.
"If I didn't have it I wouldn't be able to do anything. At one point I had to wear them in the house," Fisher said.
Doctor Bradley Keel at CHI Memorial Hospital explained that the N95 and other common ones aren't 100 percent effective.
"It helps filter some, but you're not gonna be able to completely avoid it just because of the particulate matter in the air. It's so small, but there's certain kinds of the masks that can but for day in day out wear you couldn't wear those," Keel said.
However, he said those who are close to fires may seek some comfort in wearing some sort of protection.
Over the weekend, CHI Memorial ER in Chattanooga and Hixson treated 59 patients with respiratory issues.
"A lot of those that are coming in if they're admitted some we're sending home and they're coming right back because they're just not getting any relief when they go home," Keel said. "The longer that this smoke is around the more and more problems we're gonna have especially with the people with chronic lung issues, so trying to keep them out of the hospital and keep them at home is gonna be the even a bigger challenge."
But even the healthiest person may not be safe.
"If you have good lungs and no issues you're gonna feel the effects of the smoke burning in your nose, burning in your throat and probably some shortness of breath and just some irritation," Keel said.
Symptoms Fisher knows all too well, but plans to fight with the support from others.
"The positive is that people will actually rally around you and try to help you, and that's really always a good thing to know that you've got people who will do that," Fisher said.
PREVIOUS STORY: As heavy wildfire smoke continues to fill the air throughout the Channel 3 viewing area, many people are seeking ways to protect themselves and their families.
While some enjoy the campfire smell, breathing in any type of smoke can be dangerous, especially over an extended length of time.
READ MORE | Fire evacuation checklist
According to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department and the Air Pollution Control Bureau, smoke is a complex mixture of gases and microscopic fine particles that can cause irritation to the eyes, nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs, and they can aggravate preexisting health conditions.
It's why both organizations are offering suggestions on to protect yourselves, including wearing masks to keep from breathing smoke in. However, not all kinds of masks are effective. Particulate respirators or "dust masks” from hardware stores and bandanas do not provide adequate protection against the fine particles in wildfire smoke. They only protect against particles, and do not protect against chemicals, gases, or vapors, and are intended only for low hazard levels.
According to the CDC, an “N95” mask, properly worn, will offer some protection. It's a filtering face piece respirator, often used in hospital to protect against infectious agents, and cleans particles out of the air as you breathe. Even if you can't see the particles, there may be too many in the air for this respirator to provide adequate protection.
But even when properly fitted and worn correctly, N95 respirators can make breathing more difficult and increase your heart rate, so any use by those with heart or lung disease should be done under your healthcare provider’s supervision.
Here are some more tips on how you can stay protected:
- Monitor the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau’s (APCB) Air Quality Index and stay alert to official information.
- Avoid the areas where the wildfires are currently happening. Current fire locations according to Tennessee Division of Forestry (burnsafetn.org). Crews are working in these areas to contain the blazes. Be aware that areas not directly affected by the fires can still be affected by smoke.
- Plan ahead – Smoke irritation can grow worse over minutes to hours, so while it may not bother you when you first walk outside, the irritation could become worse as you continue to be exposed.
- Stay indoors if possible - Keep indoor air as clean as possible, close windows and doors and run the heat or AC, close the outside air intakes. Use recycled air in your vehicle.
- Avoid making the indoor situation worse by limiting fireplaces, candles, gas stoves, and smoking. Vacuuming also stirs up dust.
- Prevent wildfires from starting. Do not throw lit cigarettes or cigars out of car windows. Currently there is a burn ban over most of our region.
- Talk with your doctor about leaving the area if the smoke continues or becomes worse. Make the best decision for your health.
- The effects on pets and livestock are similar to humans. Consider limiting activity, reducing exposure, and ensuring adequate drinking water. Contact your veterinarian if they are having difficulty breathing.
- Heed warnings and evacuations issued by the fire department and get out of the path of wildfires. Prepare your “Go Bag” now. If you have a medical emergency, call 911.
For more information, visit the following resources:
- Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau, 423-643-5970
- Wildfires, CDC.gov/disasters/wildfires
- Hamilton County Emergency Management & Homeland Security Facebook page, for current local fire information
- How Smoke from Fires Can Affect Your Health, AirNow.gov
- Home and Family Emergency Planning, HamiltonReady.org
- Build Your “Go Bag” (Disaster Supplies Kit), Ready.gov/kit