NEW YORK (AP) – Smoke from Canadian wildfires is triggering that migrated to the USA resulted in an increase in the number of people with asthma visiting emergency departments, particularly in the New York area.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday released two studies on the health effects of the smoke that blanketed city skylines in an orange haze in late spring. A medical journal also published a study this week.
When air quality deteriorates, “an asthmatic feels it before anyone else,” said Dr. Adrian Pristas, a pulmonologist from Hazlet, New Jersey, recalled a spate of patient calls in June during the busiest smoke days.
People with asthma often wheeze, are breathless, have chest tightness, and have either a nocturnal or early morning cough.
“I have no doubt that every asthmatic has an increase in symptoms,” Pristas said. “Some made it on their own, others had to call for help.”
Each of the studies looked at different geographic areas—one was statewide, one specific to New York State, and the last focused on New York City.
Nationwide, asthma-related emergency room visits were 17% higher than normal during the 19-day wildfire smoke that struck between late April and early August. according to a CDC study Data was collected from around 4,000 US hospitals.
In some parts of the country, hospital traffic increased more dramatically during wildfire smoke: 46% more in New York and New Jersey.
A second study published by the CDC only focused on New York State, not New York City, because the state and city have separate hospital databases, one of the authors said.
It found that the number of emergency room visits related to asthma increased by 82% nationwide Worst air quality day, June 7. The study also said that central New York state saw the highest increase in emergency room visits — more than double.
The third study, published by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, focused solely on New York City. According to the study’s lead author, George Thurston of New York University, as of June 7, there was a more than 50% increase in asthma-related emergency department visits.
None of the studies looked at other health indicators, such as increases in heart attacks or deaths.
Wildfire smoke contains tiny particles called PM2.5, which lodge deep in the lungs and can cause serious problems for asthmatics. But as problematic as the wildfire smoke was, an analysis found it contained lower levels of some toxic elements found in urban air pollution, Thurston said.
The third study also attempted to compare the increase in emergency room visits during wildfire smoke to what happens at the height of a bad pollen season – and the wildfires resulted in about 10% more emergency room visits.
“That’s reassuring. It might not have been as bad as it looked,” Thurston said
Jeffrey Acquaviva, a 52-year-old asthmatic from Holmdel, New Jersey, found that conclusion hard to accept.
“Yes, right,” said Acquaviva, who works at a family-run construction company.
In June, when the smoke worsened and the air in his backyard grew thicker and more “golden,” Acquaviva changed the filters on his air conditioners and stayed indoors for two and a half days.
His symptoms continued to worsen – his breathing was dangerously difficult – and eventually he was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he stayed for three days.
Pristas, Acquaviva’s doctor, recalled how intrusive the smoke was: “There was no place to hide.”
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