Last week’s blanket of smoke may have lifted but for many the after effects of the poor air quality are still a concern.

Air quality improved but asthmatic should still be leery

“It was the worst I've seen it in the 15 years that I've lived here.” ~ Greg Rollins, respiratory therapist.

The smoke may have dissipated from the local sky but a respiratory therapist in Trail says some asthmatic people may not be in the clear.

Greg Rollins was enjoying a bluebird sky in Whistler when almost all of the rest of the province was holding its breath. The Kootenay Boundary professional practice leader for respiratory services said he was tracking air quality while on vacation and couldn’t believe what Trail was reading.

“It was the worst I’ve seen it in the 15 years that I’ve lived here,” he said Monday. “I monitor the air quality here regularly and it’s usually two to three on that scale out of 10 and it was off the charts, up to the mid to high teens during the worst of it in the middle of last week.”

Rollins doesn’t have numbers to refer to but said anecdotally patients frequenting out-patient clinics were a lot more symptomatic during that event.

“For people who have been diagnosed with asthma, it’s important for them to understand that there is inflammation in their airways that flairs up when they’re exposed to their asthma triggers and that particulate matter that was in the air from the forest fires is a strong trigger,” he explained. “If they’re being exposed to those triggers, they may develop symptoms right away or those symptoms may by sub-clinical, they’re sort of laying beneath the surface and then the next trigger they’re exposed to could be the one that tips them over the edge and causes them to have an asthma attack.”

Out in the community, he noticed people wearing dust masks when they were riding their motorcycle or strolling down the street. The evidence is clear, he said, that those dust masks don’t filter out the sizes of particles that come from forest fires.

The masks that would filter that out are called N95 masks, which rids 95 per cent of the particulate in the air, and for those masks to work they have to be professionally fitted to a person’s face.

He recommends the use of controller medication as prescribed but if symptoms persist more than a few times a week, then he said that would warrant a visit to a family doctor.

Asthma is a condition that causes the airways to swell and narrow, which makes breathing difficult. Though each person has a different set of triggers, common asthma attack triggers include pollen, pet dander, dust, mold, physical activity, cigarette smoke, respiratory infection and cold, dry air.

The most common asthma attack symptoms include tightness or pain in the chest, extreme coughing and wheezing, and intense shortness of breath.

Rollins uses bcairquality.ca to determine air quality and recommends residents do the same. The online tool measures particulate matter 2.5 (from fire), ozone and nitrogen dioxide levels in the air to determine air quality for communities across the province. The numbered and coloured scale offers different referrals based on whether website users are at low, moderate or high risk.

After rain and wind moved in this weekend, he was relieved to see Trail’s rating fall right off again. The city was sitting at five and forecasted to go down to two when he checked Monday.

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