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CDC: Smoke from wildfires can 'get into deep part of your lungs and even into your blood'

Pollution from wildfire smoke hit the Very Unhealthy level in Eugene/Springfield on Monday, August 28, 2017. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - The air over Eugene/Springfield reached Very Unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter from forest fire smoke on Monday.

By noon, the Eugene 4J School District had either canceled outdoor activities or moved them inside due to unhealthy air quality.

"The smoke particulates in the atmosphere irritate the lungs, making breathing more difficult," said Robert Stalbow, Respiratory Therapist at PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend. "We recommend that people in the higher risk groups reduce their exposure to the hot outdoor air for the duration of this weather event. These groups include infants, children, pregnant women and adults over age 65, as well as those with asthma, respiratory infection, diabetes, lung or heart disease, or those who have had a stroke."

RELATED | Where is all the smoke coming from?

Stalbow said the smoke can reach people indoors, too.

"People with pulmonary difficulties should try to spend as much time as they can in air-conditioned spaces," said Stalbow. "Air conditioning will filter and recirculate cleaner indoor air, which will be much less irritating to the lungs than opening a window and allowing the smoky outdoor air to permeate the living space."

The pollution in question is known as "PM2.5" - that's shorthand for particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in size or smaller.

"Particles bigger than 10 micrometers can irritate your eyes, nose, and throat but do not usually reach your lungs. Ten micrometers is about seven times thinner than one human hair," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained.

The fine particulate matter - that PM2.5 measure - is the one to worry about.

"Fine and ultrafine particles are the most concerning because they are most likely to cause health problems," according to the CDC. "Their small size allows them to get into the deep part of your lungs and even into your blood."

The CDC says prolonged exposure to fine particulate matter pollution has been linked to:

  • increased emergency department visits and hospital stays for breathing and heart problems,
  • breathing problems,
  • asthma symptoms to get worse,
  • adverse birth outcomes, such as low birth weight,
  • decreased lung growth in children,
  • lung cancer, and
  • early deaths.

According to CDC, the people at the highest risk include:

People with heart or lung diseases because they will feel the effects of particulate matter sooner and at lower ozone levels than less-sensitive people.
Older adults because they may not know they have lung or heart disease. When particle levels are high, older adults are more likely than young adults to have to go to the hospital or die because the exposure to particle pollution has made their heart or lung disease worse.
Children because they are still growing and spend more time at high activity levels. When children come in contact with particle pollution over a long period of time they may have problems as their lungs and airways are developing. This exposure may put them at risk for lowered lung function and other respiratory problems later in life. Children are more likely than adults to have asthma and other respiratory problems that can worsen when particle pollution is high.
Infants because their lungs continue to develop after birth and can be impacted by air pollutants.

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