EDs, clinics see uptick in patients with respiratory issues amid Canada wildfires

Some healthcare providers in the Midwest and Northeast saw an uptick in patients with breathing troubles and other respiratory issues caused by smoke and poor air quality from Canadian wildfires. 

Hundreds of wildfires burning in Canada prompted air quality alerts affecting around 75 million Americans, according to CNN. A thick orange haze covered New York City on June 7, when the air quality index climbed to 484 out of 500, making it the most polluted city in the world. Parts of the Midwest also experienced drops in air quality, including Missouri and Nebraska. Conditions are expected to improve throughout the rest of the week, though officials are urging residents to continue monitoring air quality levels, limit outdoor activities and wear an N95 mask if necessary to be outside. 

In New Jersey, Virtua Health, based in Marlton, said it saw a slight uptick in patients with symptoms related to smoke exposure June 7-8. 

"My colleagues are seeing patients who have had some lower respiratory symptoms — cough, chest tightness, wheezing," Craig Turner, DO, director of emergency medicine at Virtua Health Marlton, told nj.com. The hospital mostly saw people with underlying respiratory or other health issues exposed to the air. Sore throat, eye irritation and chest tightness were among other symptoms patients experienced.

"Most of the patients when they're presenting to us who have shortness of breath or any chest discomfort, we'll assess them for wheezing, and if they have wheezing, we'll use short-acting breathing medications called beta-agonists to help dilate the lower airways," Dr. Turner said. 

West Orange, N.J.-based RWJBarnabas Health also saw a slight increase in patients across various facilities, officials told the news outlet. In the Midwest, MercyOne clinics in Des Moines, Iowa, saw more patients than usual with symptoms of air pollution, Nebraska Public Media reported June 8. A spokesperson for SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital in St. Louis said its pulmonologist saw an increase in patients with COPD and other lung conditions with breathing issues.  

Read more about air quality levels and the health risks associated with wildfire smoke from ABC News

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