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Smoke from Canadian wildfires puts added pressure on some Michigan hospitals

university of michigan hospital emergency sign
Katie Raymond
Michigan Radio

There's been an increase in respiratory complaints from patients since air quality in Michigan has gotten worse this week, doctors with several Michigan hospitals said Wednesday.

Doctors with McLaren and Corewell hospitals said they’ve seen an increase in patients seeking treatment for heart and lung issues. They said the airborne smoke particles mainly affect folks with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or COPD, but air conditions have been so bad recently that the pollutants can also affect anyone spending a lot of time outside.

Dr. Tressa Gardner, who specializes in emergency medicine with McLaren Health Care, encouraged those experiencing severe symptoms like shortness of breath or a chest tightness to seek medical care.

"If you really are having trouble breathing or you feel like you're wheezing, or tight chest, those are all indications to come in and let us evaluate you," Gardner said.

The poor air quality is most likely to affect those with asthma or other chronic heart or lung conditions, said Gardner.

Dr. Glen Clark, the emergency center chief at Corewell Health’s Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, said the conditions are ripe for health problems.

“In the last week, we have seen a significant increase in respiratory complaints. We’ve seen both asthma and COPD patients, who have been well controlled, presenting with exacerbations requiring an increase in updrafts and steroids. Even otherwise healthy individuals have come in complaining of chest tightness,” Clark said.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said the state's syndromic surveillance system has not indicated an abnormal increase in air quality-related respiratory illnesses or cardiovascular issues statewide. However, in a statement, the department still suggested residents take precaution.

“Anyone can get sick from exposure to wildfire smoke but some people are more sensitive to particle pollution. Older adults aged 65 and older, pregnant people, children and people with lung and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke."

"Symptoms from breathing in particle pollution from wildfire smoke can include wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. If you have asthma, follow your asthma control action plan or contact your health care provider if you have symptoms. If you have heart disease and experience these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider," the health department said.

"The most protective option when air is unhealthy for you is to stay indoors with air conditioning, reduce strenuous activities and limit outdoor activities. If you have to be outside, N95 masks offer enhanced protection when used according to product instructions," health officials said.

More information on air quality in specific cities can be found at AirNow.gov.

Taylor Bowie is a senior studying English Literature at the University of Michigan and an intern in the Michigan Radio newsroom. She is originally from Owosso, Michigan.
A.J. Evans is a senior at Michigan State University, studying journalism. He currently works as a newsroom assistant at Michigan Radio.
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