Smoke from wildfires burning throughout the state is now causing a “perfect storm” of problems as pollutants push their way into the central San Joaquin Valley, said one Fresno lung doctor on Thursday.
“We couldn’t ask for worse,” said pulmonologist and associate professor Dr. Vipul Jain, medical director of the chronic lung disease program through Community Regional Medical Center and UCSF Fresno.
Coastal air that normally helps sweep pollution from the bowl-shaped central San Joaquin Valley, which tends to lock in pollution leading to stagnant air, is now loaded with wildfire smoke, Jain said.
An air quality alert was issued by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District on Wednesday. On Thursday, air district monitors in central Fresno continued to register unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter in central Fresno. Air conditions can be checked online at valleyair.org.
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Particle pollution can cause asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, aggravate lung disease and increase the chances of respiratory infections. Inflammation triggered by pollution can also cause problems for people with heart disease.
To protect lungs, Jain advises people to stay indoors as much as possible, use air conditioning instead of opening windows, change air filters, and wear a mask if suffering from a respiratory condition or if planning strenuous activity outside. Jain said that N95 masks – a step above regular dust masks – should be used and worn properly. The masks can be purchased at many hardware stores and pharmacies.
Those with lung problems should have medications and rescue inhalers handy. Around 10 percent of people in the Valley have asthma compared to the national average of around 7 percent to 8 percent, Jain said.
Jain said he’s seen an uptick in people experiencing respiratory problems this week, as has Dr. Stephen Soldo, medical director for urgent care at Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno.
Soldo is advising people to also do their part to cut back on pollution by carpooling and, once air quality improves, by doing more bicycling and walking.
“Anything you can do to reduce your carbon footprint is helpful,” Soldo said.
Jain doesn’t expect the Valley’s air quality – which he says is normally the most problematic in the fall – to improve anytime soon.
“The worst is yet to come,” he said. “… People with lung disease need to be very cautious and avoid all triggers at all costs.”