Health

Thomas Fire smoke and ash causing health concerns

Many complaining of coughing and other problems

Thomas Fire smoke and ash causing health concerns

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Smoke and ash from the Thomas Fire is spreading far beyond the immediate burn areas in Ventura and southern Santa Barbara counties.

Over the past few days, it has moved north into northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County.

On Sunday, the conditions were especially bad in both regions, blanketing the area with a dramatic layer of thick smoke.

As the effects of the Thomas Fire moves north, people are worried about potential health issues.

"I am concerned a little bit because it's not good for the health of people," said Alan Sorenson.

The Grover Beach resident said all the smoke and ash in the air is making him sick.

"I have been doing a whole lot of coughing and the smell of the ash and it does burn at the nose a little bit," said Sorenson.

Sorenson is certainly not alone.

Dr. Chuck Merrill, Marian Regional Medical Center chief medical officer, said the hospital is experiencing a wave of fire-related medical visits.

"We're seeing patients that have both chronic lung disease and asthma and we're also seeing healthy patients that have previously not had any pulmonary disease that are feeling some irritation to the bronchial tree," said Dr. Merrill.

He adds smoke and ash presents two distinct medical problems.

"Number one, what is the acute concern? What is happening today and is it making people short of breath? Or coughing or wheezing?" Dr. Merrill said.

The second issue created by the polluted air is potentially far more serious.

"There is no complete knowledge of all the complete materials that could be in the air as a result of such a fire because of all these different structures," Dr. Merrill said. "We don't know what's in the air and we have no way of knowing what the long term sequelic could be of that."

Medical experts are recommending the best way to minimize exposure to potentially harmful conditions is to simply avoid going outdoors as much as possible.

For people who are outside, it's best to wear a protective mask, many of which have been distributed throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties over the past few days.

"The masks that are dispensed by Santa Barbara County Health are much more effective than not wearing a mask at all," said Dr. Merrill. "In fact, the particles that they prevent going through are quite small, so they would prevent most of the problems that we're seeing in the air today."

For people who are experiencing health issues from smoke inhalation, seeking medical attention is recommended.

"Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath," said Dr. Merrill. "The inability to do the normal activities without short of breath. Any of those things warrant the attention of a physician."

Sorenson said he's not quite at the point, but could be in the near future.

"If things get progress around here and the ash gets worse, I might have to," said Sorenson. "Right now, we're just doing our best, trying to get through it and hoping for the best."
 


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