In June 2023, Milwaukee’s air quality was ranked among the worst in the nation due to smoke from the Canadian wildfires. The Wisconsin DNR issued a multi-day air quality advisory for parts of Wisconsin between Tuesday, June 27, and Thursday, June 29. The heaviest smoke impacts were in the eastern half of the state, according to the DNR. The Air Quality Index (AQI) for parts of the Milwaukee area reached “very unhealthy” and even “hazardous” levels. A hazardous AQI is considered a health warning of emergency conditions and everyone is likely to be affected, regardless of age or preexisting health conditions.
Fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5, is the main component in wildfire smoke and is what makes the sky appear hazy. PM 2.5 particles are inhalable and are toxic to the body at elevated levels. The tiny particles are emitted from forest fires, but they can also come from other sources, such as vehicle exhaust, industrial facilities or power plants. PM 2.5 particles are dangerous because they can reach deep into the lungs. The particles are so small, they can enter the bloodstream, affecting the function of other organs. Studies have linked exposure to PM 2.5 particles with cardiovascular and respiratory problems, such as heart disease, chronic bronchitis and lung cancer.
Symptoms From Breathing In Smoke
- Shortness of breath
- Irritated eyes, nose or throat
- An asthma attack
- Elevated heart rate
- Chest pain
If you have shortness of breath or chest pain that persists after using your emergency or rescue medication, call 911.
Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke
While the air quality alert is in place, everyone should take steps to reduce exposure. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant women and children should take the most precautions. Jonathan Rubin, MD, emergency medicine physician with the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network, offers four tips to stay safe while the air quality alert is in place:
1. If you have underlying heart or lung problems, severely curtail your exposure to outside air. Stay inside as much as possible.
2. Use air conditioning if you have it so you can keep your windows and doors closed.
3. If you absolutely need to go out, wear a mask or face covering. An N95 mask will offer the highest level of protection.
4. Make sure you have all your medications. Ideally, have someone else go to the pharmacy to pick up your medications so you do not need to go outside.
If you have concerns for yourself or a loved one, talk to your doctor about what you can do to limit the risk.
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