During the last month, the smoke from Canadian wildfires has made its way into a significant area of the United States, drastically affecting the ability of residents to breathe, particularly those with health conditions. As someone with cystic fibrosis (CF), I find it to be yet another consequence of climate change, which makes breathing a more arduous task than it already is for me.

In what resembled a scene from “Blade Runner 2049” or “Mad Max,” the sky morphed from its usual natural blue into a dark and sandy orange in my home state of New Jersey. Even Ryan Gosling would have to admit it was a scary sight outside. My colleagues and I got up from our desks at work to gaze at the apocalyptic snow globe we seemed to be living in.

When I got home, it was time to take the dogs out, but neither they — with their tiny lungs — nor I — with my mucus-filled lungs — could be outdoors for long. I did my best to get them to do their business in the yard as quickly as “doggy” possible, which doesn’t always happen. Nonetheless, we prevailed and they were quick about it.

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An illustration shows damaged human lungs.

The fallout

While my wife experienced some health effects of the bad air quality that day, such as migraine, nausea, and eye irritation, I didn’t notice anything until a few days later. I was in the middle of binge-watching the television series “Vanderpump Rules” with my wife when I found myself coughing more than usual. I already cough a lot with CF, asthma, and allergies, but this was more than usual, and it wasn’t a dry cough. My mucus was glow-in-the-dark yellow, which for me has always meant that I’m developing some kind of lung infection.

The next day, I called to set up an appointment with my CF care team to take a sputum test so that we could at least diagnose whatever I was growing in my lungs and prescribe an appropriate antibiotic. The last time I had taken a sputum test was back in December, when I had recently been discharged from the hospital. This time, somehow I managed to get lost in New York’s Central Park on the way from one doctor appointment to the next, which apparently is a lot easier to do than I had ever realized.

That day also happened to be under another air quality warning due to the wildfires. While walking through the park in the rain, I began to feel heaviness in the air. After being outdoors for a prolonged period, I experienced what my wife had been feeling: migraine, eye irritation, and some nausea.

The only upside to this was producing enough sputum for the test to provide results. With the last sputum test I took, the results were inconclusive because I apparently had provided too much saliva. This time, however, the results showed that I was developing Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria and would be put on an oral dose of ciprofloxacin.

While I’m not 100% certain that the Canadian wildfires caused an infection in my lungs, I do know that they exacerbated whatever underlying problems may have already existed. Those of us with CF and other lung diseases must already navigate life in the era of COVID-19, in addition to our everyday struggles just to breathe. The wildfires add a new threat.

Now we know what our brothers and sisters in states like California — where devastating wildfires are increasingly frequent — experience every year. It’s something I hope I won’t have to endure too often in my lifetime. But considering how climate change is rapidly affecting our lives, I fear this may become a more common occurrence.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.

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