Last week, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy issued an air quality alert in 28 counties in Michigan, including here in Midland. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index, these counties were at a "red" or "orange" level of air quality, which is unhealthy, especially for certain sensitive populations.

Q. What causes poor air quality?

A. Any airborne irritant can cause poor air quality, including air pollution or natural disasters, like wildfires. In this instance, wildfires that began in the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Quebec burned for several days, creating hazy skies, smoke and fog throughout much of Michigan.

Q. How can poor air quality affect my health?

A. Poor air quality can make it difficult for anyone to breathe, but it can be especially difficult for young children, older adults, pregnant women and people who have a lung condition, asthma or other pre-existing respiratory condition. Wildfire smoke can also irritate your eyes, nose, throat and lungs and put you at a higher risk for developing a respiratory infection.

Q. Can the smoke in the air make my allergies worse?

A. While wildfire smoke itself is not an allergen, it can certainly irritate your nasal passages and airway. Given that during this time of year, those with seasonal allergies may already be experiencing allergy symptoms, it’s possible that you may notice enhanced allergy symptoms if you are outside for an extended period of time.  

Q. What can I do to protect myself when the air quality is poor?

A. For those at higher risk especially, I recommend avoiding strenuous outdoor activities (this includes mowing your lawn!) or being outside for an extended time when at all possible. If you have to be outside, an N95 mask is recommended to help filter out pollutants. When indoors, you should also keep doors, windows and fireplaces closed, and you can run an air purifier in your home if you have one. If you have asthma, or if you use an inhaler for any reason, make sure it’s readily available and not expired in case you need to use it.

If you begin to experience respiratory symptoms, contact your health care provider. If you are experiencing difficulty breathing, chest pain or wheezing/whistling in the chest, seek medical attention immediately.

David Jordahl, M.D., is a family medicine physician and president of MyMichigan Medical Group.


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