Late summer in Southern California is often wildfire season, with fuel from spring growth dried out and susceptible to ignition from sparks or flames. Respiratory problems can flare up during this time, according to pulmonary disease and obstructive airway specialist Laren Tan, MD.
“Three years ago, most of my patients were having respiratory problems mostly in the winter,” Tan says. “Now I have two peak seasons — winter and summer. With the heat, pollution and wildfires, it’s the perfect storm for respiratory problems in the summer.”
Although certain times of the year or natural disasters can exacerbate airway issues, Tan offers these four tips to stay on guard and minimize airway damage.
If vulnerable, stay indoors. If you have chronic lung problems, for example, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases or asthma, try to stay inside if you see or smell smoke. If you can smell smoke, that’s an indicator you are close enough to risk side effects. If you have to go out while driving, keep your windows up and push the recirculation button in your vehicle to prevent smoke from entering.
Prepare your home. While indoors, use your central air conditioner or set your home heater to fan mode to recirculate air through the filter, decreasing smoke particulates. It’s important to check when your air filter was last replaced. Also, make sure to wipe off your shoes, and if you have a pet, wipe their paws before entering your home — ash or soot from the fires can otherwise be brought into your home.
Have enough medication. Make sure medications are up to date (non-expired) for any airway problems that may occur. Having updated and enough medicine handy could be a lifesaver.
Don’t ignore the smallest of signs. A continuing cough, runny nose, or throat irritation are just a few of the signs that someone should be concerned that smoke is affecting their airways. If you have any of these symptoms, Tan warns to not simply brush them off. He says what may seem like small symptoms can turn into something more serious.
During this wildfire season, remember to stay proactive so this is not a season that stops you from living a healthy and full life. Be prepared and make sure to visit a physician if your symptoms worsen or if you wish to check for undiagnosed respiratory conditions.
At Loma Linda University Comprehensive Program for Obstructive Airway Diseases, our physicians treat a wide range of symptoms and are experts at providing the best personalized and innovative care. To schedule an appointment call at 909-558-8097.