By Sonny Tapia
Bad air quality has an impact on anyone exposed, but primarily those with pre-existing conditions like COPD, asthma or heart conditions. Ways to breathe easy during the COVID-19 pandemic and the wildfires were discussed by Respiratory Health Professor Bunnarith Chhun and Nurse Practioner Michelle Quon.
The air quality is determined by the Environmental Protection Agency and is categorized into different types of air pollution. Some of the pollutants are called particulate pollution, ground level ozone, lead, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide. If someone has asthma, any of these pollutants will exasperate the asthma reaction Quon said. All of the listed pollutants can be caused by vehicle exhausts.
Quon said that a long exposure to lead pollution can cause infections of the organs along with headaches and behavioral issues in smaller children. The pollutants can attach themselves to hemoglobin in the bloodstream, which carries oxygen throughout the body causing the inability to fight off viral infections.
“People with ongoing heart conditions like COPD and also children, older adults and pregnant patients are at a high risk of problems with bad air quality,” Quon said.
Air quality can be determined through an Air Quality Index. The index will label the air quality with a number and a color.
She said that during the fires the air quality on the index was shown to be in an orange level which is noted to be unhealthy for sensitive groups. The Air Quality Index can be found for any area by typing it in the Google search bar.
While working out during a time of poor air quality, Quon recommendeds to work out indoors and lower the excessiveness of the exercises in general. People that choose to work out outdoors during this time can experience wheezing and trouble breathing that can lead to a cough or chest pain.
Emergency preparedness was talked about due to the recent fires in the area of Southern California.
Quon showed a slide that mentioned knowing where emergency exits are at all times in case of an emergency evacuation. Closing the windows before evacuating will decrease the amount of oxygen allowed to hit the fire and keep it going.
Quon also said that emergency safety kits should be available to a household at any point in time and stocked with water and supplies like N95 masks and food. N95 masks help keep the pollutants from entering the body 95% of the time, but non-N95 masks will not help at all.
“In the current situation with air pollution caused by fire, a cloth mask will not help you, and there is even some speculation about N95 masks working,” Chhun said. Quon said that the influenza season is coming up and that many have heard the season be called “the twindemic,” especially in the medical field.
Symptoms of influenza are similar to those of COVID-19 Quon said. The most contagious time for influenza patients is three to four days after the illness begins. Those who have weak immune systems can be contagious for five to seven days after the illness begins.
Quon displayed a chart that specified the differences between influenza and cold symptoms. The chart from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention listed that the symptoms are gradual in a cold and abrupt in influenza.
A fever is rare in a cold and usual with influenza along with a cold causing headaches as rare but common in influenza. Influenza vaccines do not prevent COVID-19, but will decrease symptoms during the time of influenza infection.
Chhun asks his classes in respiratory therapy if they know if COVID-19 is a virus or a disease and most of the time they say it is a virus. COVID-19 is a disease not a virus. “I’ve asked my clinical students whether COVID-19 is a virus or a disease. They will say it is a virus, but it is not, it is a disease,” Chhun said.
The speed of a cough or sneeze is about 500 miles per hour or roughly the speed of a jetliner Chhun said. He added that this is why it is extremely important to continue wearing masks to protect others. Symptoms of COVID-19 can be seen two to 14 days after exposure to the virus and include shortness of breath and fever.
Chhun said that the time to reach out for medical care is almost immediately, especially if a patient has trouble breathing or bluish lips or face. Continuing to follow CDC guidelines is crucial Chhun said.
“If you cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. I recommend covering yourself with your shirt instead of coughing or sneezing into your arm,” Chhun said.
In case of potential exposure, participating in self isolation is advised by the CDC.
A patient that may have been exposed should stay home for 10 days as long as there are no symptoms anymore and the patient has not had a fever for the last 24 hours. Reduce close contact with anyone during the self quarantine and deny anyone from entering your home that does not live in the house.
People that come in close contact for more than 15 minutes with a positive COVID-19 patient, must quarantine for 14 days.