Smokey Haze Sparks Health Concerns

South Floridians woke up this morning to the sight and smell of intense smoke from a brush fire that originated in Western Broward County.

Smoke and fog from a 2,500-acre wildfire blanketed areas of Miami-Dade and Broward, creating potentially hazardous conditions for people with existing pulmonary vulnerabilities, as well as young children and older adults. The National Weather Service issued a dense smoke advisory for Miami-Dade and Broward counties until 10 a.m. Monday.

Smoke from wildfires, even several miles downwind, can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. The smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials.

“The amount of smoke we have can cause serious problems for people with respiratory issues such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and allergies,” said Javier Perez-Fernandez, M.D., a pulmonologist affiliated with Baptist Health South Florida. “People should stay indoors with the air-conditioning turned on.  Most air-conditioners have filters that protect us from most contaminants.”

Dr. Perez-Fernandez emphasizes that surgical-type masks or any covering for the face in these conditions do not help and could actually make breathing more difficult.

“A surgical or more sophisticated type of mask gives you a false sense of security and could make people suffer even worse consequences,” he said. “The best thing is to stay indoors until conditions improve.”

If you are among those who are most vulnerable to smoke, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends that you stay inside in a location that is air-conditioned with little to no smoke intrusion. Keep windows and doors closed.

Here are those most susceptible to ill-effects from wildfire smoke, the CDC says:

  • People who have heart or lung diseases, like congestive heart failure, angina, COPD (including emphysema), or asthma, are at higher risk from wildfire smoke.
  • Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke. This may be due to their increased risk of heart and lung diseases.
  • Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke. Children’s airways are still developing, and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, according to the CDC. In addition, children often spend more time outdoors engaged in activity and play.
  • (Photo by Sammy Mack/WLRN-Miami Herald News: Downtown Miami)

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