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Spokane doctor answers questions about the health effects of unhealthy air

Exposure to hazardous air could cause issues for those with respiratory problems.

SPOKANE, Wash. — With poor air quality caused by wildfire smoke continuing to be prevalent in eastern Washington, many people are wondering about the possible negative health effects of the air.

Dr. Ben Arthurs, a pulmonologist at Multicare, said there are dangers to this smoke when it comes to the respiratory tract due to the particulates in the air.

"The dangers of this smoke, the particulates coat our respiratory tract. We all feel it in our eyes, our nose, the back of our throats, but that continues on the way to the airways in our lungs," Arthurs said. "The particulates themselves, they're irritants so they provoke inflammation."

Arthurs also said that the smoke can have adverse health effects for those with allergies.

"If you do have allergies to wood smoke, it'll provoke allergic inflammation and it just leads to swelling, mucous, and irritability of all these structures," he said. "Patients with asthma may have more trouble breathing than usual, very irritating short term, will flare up anybody with respiratory track [issues]."

But many people are wondering what will happen when it comes to long-term effects of exposure to hazardous air.

Arthurs said they aren't really sure what will happen long-term when it comes to breathing in hazardous air, but it won't be the same as activities such as regular smoking. 

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"I think we don't know for sure. Realistically, chronic lung diseases will happen with repeated [exposure]. This is not going to be the same as smoking a pack a day for thirty years, it's not likely to cause you emphysema when you're 40 or 50 years old," Arthurs said. "If you're prone to asthma, the acute flare-ups can lead to hospitalizations, and some of those can lead to permanent lung damage. This translates to long-term problems because of those short-term injuries that will occur. Most irritation from smoke will be short-lived. The problem should not translate to long-term disease unless you're predisposed to respiratory flare-ups."

Arthurs said at the end of the day, use common sense, as there is no need to hoard or empty the air filter shelves. Stay indoors and shut your doors and windows to keep smoke out. 

Arthurs said there is no need for an N95 mask - the best way to avoid the smoke is simply to stay indoors. If you're having allergies acting up or itchy eyes, you can get over the counter antihistamines or nasal steroid sprays.