As residents of the Central Okanagan wait for the skies to clear from what is likely the worst air quality the area has ever seen, it appears that most people have been able to avoid the worst case scenario when it comes to their health.
Emergency rooms across the Okanagan have only seen a slight increase in visits over the last several days, since a thick layer of smoke rolled into the Okanagan Valley and raised the amount of fine particulate in the air to levels never seen before.
According to Interior Health, there wasn’t a considerable increase in the visits to the emergency room at Kelowna General Hospital, although a few patients did present smoke-related symptoms on Monday while hospitals in Penticton and Oliver have also noticed an increase in visits since Sunday
Interior Health medical health officer Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi says the concentration of fine particulate is the highest he has seen in the past decade and even worse than in 2003, when the Okanagan Mountain Park fire roared through Kelowna.
“When the concentration (of fine particulates in the air) are extremely high almost everybody will be affected,” said Golmohammadi. “We know people who are older adults or young children, pregnant women and those that have lung or heart conditions are at a higher risk but when the concentrations are this high, almost everyone can be affected by it.”
With the smoke in the air, residents young and old have been breathing in fine particulate matter, particles that are microscopic, yet hard for a person’s lungs to handle.
Dr. Golmohammadi says the fine particulate lodges in the tissues of our lungs and will remain there as lungs can’t properly dispose of the particulate due to its size.
However the long term effects of breathing in fine particulate for shorter periods of time are tougher to measure than residents of some parts of the world, who suffer from poor air quality on a regular basis.
“The major concern we have is with the very small particulate matter that can go deep and lodge in the lungs, causing respiratory symptoms,” he said. “There is a body of evidence that shows if you are exposed (to fine particulate) over many years, there are significant adverse effects. But for these short-term and intermittent periods of exposure, the body of evidence and scientific data is limited. We do not have a good idea of what it does when there is only a few days of exposure.”
Residents who are suffering from the poor air quality are told to stay indoors as much as possible and see their doctor if there are concerns.