Some relief from smoky conditions may be on the way for southern Manitoba on Thursday but a special air quality statement remains in effect. That has one doctor warning that the conditions should be taken seriously.
Numerous forest fires in northwestern Ontario and eastern Manitoba will continue to blanket southern Manitoba with widespread smoke today, with reduced visibilities and widespread poor air quality. According to Environment Canada, some improvement, particularly in the southwest corner of the province can be expected later today as winds shift, and the smoke should be much less noticeable in most areas on Thursday.
Dr. Denis Fortier is Chief Medical Officer and Regional Lead for Medical Services with Southern Health-Sante Sud. He says they anticipate this poor air quality will have an increased impact on visits to emergency departments, clinics, physicians or nurse practitioners.
Dr. Fortier explains that if you could examine the smoke at a microscopic level, you would probably see particulate matter flowing in the air. And, any time you breathe in particles that should not be there, it can irritate your lungs and cause inflammation, especially to those with pre-existing lung and heart conditions.
"When I say inflammation, I mean there is a collection of white blood cells trying to attack these things that shouldn't be there," he says. "And those white blood cells end up kind of coating and clogging sometimes some of our smaller air passages and our air pockets in our lungs and that makes it more difficult for oxygen to get into our blood system."
Dr. Fortier says that is a short-term problem. But, long term, if we had to live with this issue for a very long period of time, there would be other consequences such as a higher risk for chronic lung disease and cancer.
"I'm really hoping that that isn't the case," he notes. "That we really are going to see the wind shift and the fires die down so that we don't have to live with this amount of pollution and this poor air quality for any length of time."
According to Dr. Fortier, there are two segments of the population that are most at risk right now with these conditions; the very young and then the elderly. He notes babies and toddlers tend to breathe in a lot more air compared to their body size, which is why this impacts them. And for the elderly, Dr. Fortier says that is mostly because they have medical conditions such as lung or heart issues.
Dr. Fortier says another group that is more easily impacted is those who spend all of their days working outdoors.
"I think when we get to the unhealthy levels of matter in pollution, then absolutely we should limit the amount of time that you are exposed to this," he suggests. "So that means if you do like to run, or if you like to walk or if you like to spend time outdoors, you might want to limit that over the next couple of days."
Further to that, he suggests trying to reduce the amount of air that you take into your house from outdoors through air conditioning. He also recommends using the recycled air option on your car, rather than pulling in smoky air from outdoors.
Dr. Fortier says some of the warning signs that you may be exposed to too much smoke, closely resemble the effects of allergies. This includes burning or watery eyes, a runny nose or sneezing. But, if the symptoms are more serious such as coughing up phlegm, shortness of breath or chest pain and especially if you have a heart condition, Dr. Fortier says you absolutely need to speak to a primary care provider.