AUSTIN (KXAN) — Wildfire season is upon us with several large fires already having burned in Central Texas over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, whether near or far, wildfires can put out a lot of harmful smoke into the air. Particulate within that smoke can be harmful to the general public, and more specifically, those with pre-existing conditions.
Meteorologist Kristen Currie spoke with Dr. Matthew Ashley, chief medical officer at Centre for Neuro Skills and a board member with the American Heart Association, to learn how those in sensitive groups can protect themselves from harmful toxins in wildfire smoke.
Below is a transcript of their interview. Edits have been made for clarification.
Kristen Currie, KXAN News: Dr. Ashley, let’s first start with wildfires. Unfortunately, we’re in the thick of it when it comes to fire season. We’ve already had our fair share of wildfires so far. Are there certain health impacts the general public needs to watch for when it comes to wildfire smoke?
Matthew Ashley, Neuro Skills: I think that people who are in sensitive groups, whether that relates to cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, or brain health, need to be paying attention to the effects that wildfire smoke can have on them. And there are several ways, fortunately, that they can protect themselves. When they inhale the particulate matter that is in wildfire smoke and other forms of air pollution, they’re more predisposed to developing difficulties with acute events. For example, acute heart attack in response to that stress on their system. Long term, air pollution of any kind is problematic for all individuals. And it’s something that everybody should be aware of and concerned about. But people who have known or existing respiratory, cardiovascular or brain health issues, should really, really have an elevated bar for being concerned about that in the short term [days or weeks].
Currie: Are there things that they need to be doing to better protect themselves?
Ashley: One is being aware of the problem and being aware of the current conditions that are around them. There are many resources available online to be able to check the air quality on a daily and weekly basis. People who are sensitive or in sensitive groups should be monitoring that for themselves, and really limiting their outdoor time in situations where the air quality is poor. They can also protect themselves in their indoor environments by using high-quality air filters and limiting the effect of outside air in those settings. And if they do really need to spend significant time outdoors in situations where the air quality is poor, they can use a high-quality mask to try to filter out some of those particles.