Unhealthy air quality in Southern California: Powerful winds stir up dangerous particles

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Wednesday, October 30, 2019
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Even if you're not directly in the fire-danger zone, you could be sneezing, coughing or experiencing other smoke-related health issues.

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (KABC) -- The powerful winds and fires are causing very unhealthy air quality all over Southern California.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has issued a dust advisory due to the sand and dust particles blowing in areas of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Even if you don't live near one of the active fires, experts said you could be affected.

Dr. Sam Torbati, an emergency medicine specialist with Cedars-Sinai, explained why you might be coughing or having trouble breathing.

"If you smell smoke, if you see soot, the tiny particulate material is in the air and that's what's going to make you sick," Torbati said.

Experts said, with these high winds, it's very hard to tell exactly where the smoke, ash or soot will go or how far.

"Smoke contains tiny particulate material...very irritating to the airways. That's the thing that causes you to sneeze, become congested, develop a runny nose," Torbati said.

Doctors said you may also experience burning eyes, scratchy throat, headaches and fatigue.

For people who have asthma or heart disease, the smoky and dust-filled air could cause severe difficulty breathing and wheezing.

Dr. Torbati said people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) may be especially sensitive to the effects of smoke.

"They will get very symptomatic and quite sick. They really need to stay indoors," Torbati said.

If people have difficulty breathing, or chest pain, they should seek medical care immediately.

Besides the elderly, children can also be vulnerable to health threats from smoke. Experts from the Center for Disease Control point out that children's airways are still developing, breathing more air per pound of body weight than adults. It's helpful to keep in mind kids also spend more time outdoors.

The best advice: Stay indoors, if possible. Limit optional activities, don't exercise outside or exert yourself if you don't need to.