What to Know about Bad Air Quality - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

What to Know about Bad Air Quality

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As wildfires continue to burn across the state, the city of Billings has been pretty clear. Those wildfires have pushed some smokey air and ash into the city. Now, one pulmonologist tells KULR-8 that smokey air-related problems are on the rise.

Dr. Robert Merchant with Billings Clinic specializes in caring for those people who suffer from lung disease. He said the number of people walking into the clinic with problems associated with bad air quality is growing.

Dr. Robert Merchant said, "Last week at one time I had three people in the hospital because of the smokey air. This week it's quieted down. I only have one person in the ICU because of the smokey air. And that's the ICU. In our clinic, we get a lot of people coming in with exacerbations of their breathing because of this."

Dr. Merchant called the steady increase one of his biggest concerns. He also told KULR-8 that bad air quality does not only affect the elderly and young children, but people who have lung disease, asthma and COPD. He said these groups of people are at the highest risk of severe damage.

Symptoms of bad air quality for people can range. For a person who's healthy, Dr. Merchant says symptoms will be watery eyes. For those who suffer from asthma or COPD, symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath and trouble walking. For people with heart disease, symptoms include shortness of breath and chest pain.

"If they're having symptoms, they don't want to be toughing it out. I would much rather them be seen in the clinic than have them be seen in the ICU on the ventilator," according to Dr. Merchant.

The pulmonologist also said the main thing he's worried about is fine particulates. Dr. Merchant said the size of particulates is important. For example, Dr. Merchant said if a particulate is big, it will get caught in a person's nose. When that happens, the particulate will not deposit into the lungs. If a particulate is really tiny, once a person exhales, the particulate will come out. That also means the particulate will not deposit into the lungs either. Dr. Merchant said the particulates that can really cause damage are called 2.5 microns. He said, "2.5 microns is the particular size of particles we really worry about, because those particles are the ones that get down in the lungs and deposit there and cause the damage."

Dr. Merchant wants all residents to know how to figure out if air quality is in the green or in the red. He told KULR-8 that all residents have to do is look up air quality reports and to look outside. He said we are fortunate and that residents "can look out to the beartooths and see how far you can see. Because if you can see out to the beartooths the air quality is pretty good."

The pulmonologist said residents shouldn't be able to see the air they're breathing.

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