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Hazardous air quality leads to uptick in patients with respiratory issues

20210925-bc-airpollution

A gardener blows debris along River Boulevard on a smoky Friday afternoon.

The noxious smoke that descended upon the Bakersfield area Friday brought a noticeable increase in the already elevated rate of people showing up at Clinica Sierra Vista locations lately with respiratory problems.

The organization's medical director of special populations, Dr. Matthew Beare, reported seeing multiple patients with respiratory flares by noon Friday amid extraordinarily hazy vistas and reports of ash falling from the sky.

“​​The chronic effects of the poor quality are seen in every primary care clinic throughout Kern County,” Beare said. “Even in the past several weeks, we've seen a big pickup in those acute flares.”

Patients with respiratory issues such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease have difficulty breathing because their lungs suffered damage. Individuals with COPD have inflamed lungs, which can trap secretions and lead to pneumonia.

Airways within asthmatics tighten, Beare said, often triggering an asthma attack. Deadly particulate matter clogs the lungs, which creates problems for those with already-damaged airways.

He said that often these conditions lead to hospital visits because normal medicine, like an inhaler, cannot clear the airways.

Vulnerable populations are not the only affected individuals, however. Residents without chronic respiratory problems can suffer lung damage. Beare said exposure to particulate matter over an extended period can risk developing lung disease.

“These are not healthy, long-term living conditions in terms of air quality,” he said.

The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District recommends installing air filters to achieve cleaner air.

A makeshift filter can be created with an air filter, a box fan and duct tape, it says: Attach the air filter to the fan’s back and replace as needed.

If possible, Beare recommends wearing an N95 mask when outside. This type of mask contains a higher filtering capacity rather than a cloth mask.

He recommends individuals exercise indoors. Increased activity outside causes more oxygen to flow into the lungs, leading to more harmful material inhaled.

“That air you're breathing in was polluted with all of this junk,” Beare said. “It's like a higher dose with higher intensity than your normal stroll outside.”

He emphasized people with respiratory issues should continue taking their medicine.

Beare warned the public not to downplay acute symptoms such as coughing, which might not be related to poor air quality. People with symptoms similar to COVID-19 should take correct precautions and get tested, he added.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. Follow her on Twitter: @idesai98.