Hazy skies in Campbell River on Tuesday. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Hazy skies in Campbell River on Tuesday. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

In smoky conditions, listen to your body: Island Health

Symptoms of smoke exposure include eye, throat irritation

With heavy clouds of smoke hanging over Vancouver Island, people should take it easy and listen to their bodies. That’s the message from Dr. Paul Hasselback, acting chief medical officer for Island Health

“The key is get to know your body, and recognize that it won’t be able to do as much as it usually does,” he said.

Fortunately, health problems associated with smoke are well-understood, he said. People with respiratory conditions like asthma or chronic lung disease may notice their illnesses worsen, he said. The smoke can also affect people with heart conditions.

He also stressed that people including the very young and very old are susceptible to changes in air quality.

“Young people breathe more rapidly,” he said, explaining that the lungs of children have to work harder to provide oxygen to their bodies.

But while some groups are more badly affected than others, smoke is an issue for everyone.

“All of us may have symptoms,” he said. “Even those that believe that they are healthy, if we are exposed to high levels of smoke, we’re going to get some symptoms.”

The most common symptoms include eye and throat irritation and coughing. Many people may feel they’re not able to do as much as usual, and their exercise routines may be affected.

Hasselback said that people shouldn’t avoid strenuous activity, but listen to their bodies and take it easy.

“Reduce your strenuous activity,” he said.

Smoke leads to high levels of fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 in the atmosphere. Those particles can damage the heart and lungs, and in Campbell River on Tuesday morning, levels of PM2.5 reached a 24-hour average of nearly 140 micrograms per cubic metre.

The province’s air quality objective for an “acceptable level” is just 25 micrograms per cubic tonne.

But Hasselback noted that PM2.5 levels are the same indoors and outdoors, unless a sophisticated air filtration system is in place.

Asked about construction workers and others doing hard work in the smoky air, he said WorkSafeBC has guidelines developed from years of experience with wildfires in the Interior.

He said the Island is usually blessed with the best air quality around. But in recent days, the jet stream has created a bubble that trapped wildfire smoke over the region. The smoke will stick around until another weather system moves in, he said.


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