Is Wildfire Smoke In Atlanta Cause For Concern?

As we enter into our second week of wildfires in northern Georgia, you’ve likely noticed the smoke hovering above Atlanta and its surrounding areas. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve likely smelled it or even experienced some eye or throat irritation from it. Because there are several thousand acres that have been impacted by the fire, the reach of the smoke is extensive.

Since many of us have continued with our normal routines despite the smoke, you have to wonder, what are the health effects of being outside in it?

Breathing in More Than Air

While the smoke levels in most of Atlanta and the surrounding areas have not reached a Very Unhealthy range, there is still cause for concern. The smoke that wildfires produce is full of multiple gases and fine particles from wood and other materials that have been burned. These microscopic particles can impact your eyes and respiratory system when you breathe them in.

What the Air Quality Levels Mean

To help ensure clean air, or warn people about possible pollutants, the Air Quality Index (AQI) measures five major pollutants, including:
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Nitrogen dioxide
  • Ozone
  • Particulate Matter
In measuring these five major pollutants, the AQI will provide a number to indicate how clean or hazardous the air is. These ranges include: 
  • 0-50 Good
  • 51 to 100 Moderate
  • 101 to 150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (those with heart and lung diseases, older adults and children)
  • 151 to 200 Unhealthy (for everyone, health effects possible)
  • 201 to 300 Very Unhealthy (for everyone, serious health effects possible)
  • 301 to 500 Hazardous (emergency conditions, serious health effects likely for entire population)
Depending on your location, the AQI may be higher or lower than others and may fluctuate throughout the day. It is estimated that metro Atlanta is currently at an Unhealthy level with an AQI of 163.

What are the Risks?

As the AQI level(s) indicate, healthy people don’t necessarily have to stay indoors all day; however, that may still be the safest option. At the very least, everyone, no matter how healthy you are, should avoid heavy exertion and prolonged activity outdoors.

The greatest risk is for those that have or are recovering from a heart or lung condition, as well as the elderly and very young children. Even if you do not fall into one of these groups, keep in mind that you are still at risk for irritation from the smoke, and may experience some symptoms of eye and/or respiratory irritation listed below. If you notice these symptoms, especially in someone who falls within one of the high risk groups, make sure to see your health care provider.
  • Continued Coughing
  • Scratchy or Itchy Throat
  • Irritated Sinuses
  • Runny Nose
  • Painful Eyes (itchy, stingy or otherwise)
  • Chest pain and/or palpitations
  • Shortness of Breath and/or difficulty breathing
What Can You Do?
  • Frequently check the AQI for reports in your local area
  • Opt for indoor activities instead of outdoor
  • Make sure that doors and windows at home and work are kept closed
  • If you must spent prolonged time outdoors, look for a disposable respirator (N95 or P100) that will trap small particles; avoid comfort or dust masks
  • If you have health conditions such as asthma or COPD, it may be good to work with your physician to ensure you are minimizing risks
  • Keep your indoor air clean by reducing other sources of possible pollution (e.g. burning candles, fireplaces, gas stoves and smoking cigarettes)
We’re Here to Help

With the wildfire smoke continuing to be a concern for Georgia residents, among several other states, it’s important that we learn how to stay safe and minimize health risks. In the event that you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of eye or respiratory irritation, the experts at ChoiceOne Urgent Care are there to help. With experienced specialists and numerous resources available, you will receive the customized care you need.

If you are in a high risk group (those with a heart condition, lung condition, elderly or young children), and you are experiencing more severe symptoms, make sure to seek care from the dedicated staff of Gwinnett Medical Center’s Emergency Room


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