Health & Medicine

Smoke prompts Sacramento County health alert: Limit outdoor activity through Friday

The smoky air blanketing the region from wildfires prompted a statement Monday from Sacramento County air quality and health officials urging residents to take precautions and limit outdoor activities through Friday.

If you smell or see smoke, officials said, here’s what you should do:

Minimize outdoor activities, even if you’re healthy.

In particular, children, the elderly and people with respiratory or heart conditions should avoid exposure when air quality is poor.

As much as possible, stay indoors with doors and windows closed.

Those with asthma should follow their management plan.

If you are coughing, short of breath, or have other symptoms you think are caused by smoke, contact your doctor.

Those with heart disease especially should limit their exposure, because particulate pollution from smoke can cause heart attacks.

“Smoke in the air from wildfires can aggravate pre-existing conditions for those with respiratory issues,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said in the statement from the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District. “Older adults, people with chronic diseases and young children are most at risk and should avoid outside activities if they see or smell smoke.”

Local air quality has been affected by smoke filtering into the region from the ongoing Mendocino Complex and Carr fires in Northern California in addition to smaller fires around the state, according to Thomas Hall, a spokesman for the air district.

Both today and tomorrow are Spare The Air days, due to high levels of ozone and smoke affecting air quality. Residents are encouraged to limit their driving on designated days, as ozone is primarily created through mobile sources like cars.

A health caution is also in place for San Joaquin County, where poor air quality is a result of smoke from various fires including the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County.

“Wildfire smoke is a mixture of gases and fine, microscopic particles that can cause health problems including triggering asthma attacks, aggravating chronic heart and lung diseases, and increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke,” a press release from the county explains.

According to Hall, the harmful, microscopic air particles present in smoky air enhances the formation of ozone. In addition to smoke, high temperatures have also increased ozone levels seen locally.

“Being exposed to high concentrations of ozone is like giving your lungs a sunburn,” he said.

Short-term health effects include reduced lung function, making it harder to breathe, and irritated eyes, nose and throat. Long-term consequences include impacts on heart health and both the cardiovascular and respiratory systems.

The district has identified both the foothills and the city of Folsom as areas of concern.

“The mountains create sort of a backstop and it allows pollution to impact foothills communities more,” Hall said. “Folsom is typically one of the worst hit by both ozone and particulate pollution based on the pattern we’re currently seeing, but it really does vary based on where the fire is and where the smoke is coming in.”

Because air quality is varied throughout the region, the air quality district relies on residents to trust their senses, check available data and use proper precautions, Hall explained.

He recommends common sense ways to avoid air pollution: be cautious before performing outdoor work or exercising outdoors; keep doors and windows closed; make sure air conditioners aren’t pulling in outdoor air and avoid dusting up ash and breathing it in.

“If you’re feeling tightness in your chest, if you’re having trouble breathing, irritated eyes, all of those … are symptoms of pollution exposure,” Hall said.

District officials do not expect air quality to improve any time soon.

Sacramento residents can check current conditions on sparetheair.com under the “Current Conditions” tab or by downloading the free Sacramento Region Air Quality app from the App Store.

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