North Georgia Fires Pose Health Threat Statewide

The effects of the wildfires consuming parts of north Georgia are creating a variety of problems across the state. Fueled by persistent drought conditions and strong winds, the fires have created hazardous smoke that has spread far beyond the immediate northern areas wrestling with evacuations and the threat of property damage.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.

Health officials say they have seen a noticeable increase in respiratory related doctor and emergency room visits.

Irma Mitchell, 65, was hospitalized last week from complications with asthma. Her daughter, Deneen Campbell, says that the smoke caused difficulty breathing and wheezing. “It started with the smoke,” said Campbell who has had to rearrange holiday plans to take care of her mother. “She will definitely be here through the rest of the week.”

Healthcare providers across the state stress the importance of avoiding areas with poor air quality. “Stay indoors!” said Dr. Maia Walton, medical director of MommyMadeMD. “Limit outside activity as needed and especially avoid exercise or physical activity outdoors.”

Children whose lungs are still developing are especially at risk of complications with particulate matter in the air. Dr. Walton advises parents of young children to keep an eye on air quality, “Check your local weather report to see whether the wind is blowing toward you or away from with respect to the location of the fire. Try to coordinate your activities during the days and times that the wind is blowing the smoke away from you.”

During holiday travel and road trips through areas affected by smoke, Dr. Charles Callender, Chief of Department of Pulmonary Critical Care at the Mercer University School of Medicine, advised travelers to “roll up your car windows” and “in an area that has become impregnated with smoke to switch from pulling the air outside of the car to making sure that the air is re-circulating from your air conditioning.” Dr. Callender noted that individuals who begin to experience difficulty breathing should “monitor themselves [and] if their symptoms are not improving or resolved within minutes then to seek medical attention.”

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