Pulmonologist Wayne Strauss shares his observations about the wildfires and dangerous air quality on the West Coast. Dr. Strauss is a PH physician with the Oregon Clinic’s Pulmonary Vascular Institute in Portland. The institute is a Pulmonary Hypertension Association-accredited PH Care Center

By Wayne Strauss, M.D., Ph.D

It is with very heavy hearts that we watch the destructive wildfires ravaging through the Western United States. As our beloved wild places burn, our thoughts go out to all of those suffering personal and financial loss. The difficulty of managing this natural disaster in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is almost unimaginable.

People with pulmonary hypertension (PH) and other chronic lung and heart diseases are especially vulnerable to the effects of hazardous air quality. Here are some relatively simple tips to help to minimize the risk of particulate-matter exposure:

  • Stay indoors whenever possible.
  • Avoid excessive exercise and activities that tax your breathing.
  • Use an N95 mask or better when exposure to unhealthy air is unavoidable. Simple surgical masks do not filter out the harmful smoke particles.
  • Keep your windows and outside doors tightly closed.
  • If possible, use a HEPA air purifier in a room with the least exposure to outside air to create a safer environment. Some air-conditioning systems can accomplish this as well.
  • For people who live in severely affected areas, evacuate to somewhere with cleaner air if feasible.
  • Of course, do not smoke or expose yourself to any unnecessary pollution.

Many people live in areas under varying degrees of evacuation orders. If you need to evacuate your home, please make sure that you have a supply of important medications to take with you. Abruptly stopping PH medications can be dangerous and cause the disease to quickly progress.

So many of us are experiencing high degrees of stress right now. The fires have come at a time when we are all vulnerable from the loss of social connection caused by the pandemic. Please make sure that you take the time you need for your mental health and seek help if you need it.

Reach out to your PH specialist to help with specific information relevant for your area.

I hope all people with PH and their families are able to stay safe. We will get through this together.