SoCal's hot gusty winds stirring up health concerns during fire season

Days of wildfires combined with dry, gusty winds are stirring up a lot of health issues for Southern Californians.

Ralph Gustavson said he's notices the hot, dry air irritates his eyes. He hopes some eye drops might help.

"My eyes are a little gritty. I've been rubbing them a little bit," he said.

Others have complained of headaches, sinus pain, and allergies.

Pulmonologist Dr. Eli Hendel, with Dignity Health Glendale Memorial, said, "The first place that people feel it is in the mucosal areas in the eyes and nose."

Hendel explains that the heat from fires sends toxic particles up into the atmosphere.

He said the intense heat causes the smoke to go to the top, but then as it cools down it falls down.

In the evening, people are exposed to more fine particles - and in the morning, they may see all the ashes in the pools and on their cars.

Dueling winds create stagnant conditions.

"The coastal winds blow inwards and the Santa Ana winds oppose that and make the particulates stay in that area," Hendel said.

When you're congested or stuffy, Hendel says the swelling in the nasal passages is the body's way of protecting the lungs. And when you can't use your nose, you lose one of your best defense mechanisms.

"When someone goes for mouth breathing and there's less of those defenses, you take a big gulp of that air, and it goes straight into the lungs", he said.

The best defense: limit time spent outside. But if you have to be outdoors wear a NIOSH-certified mask. It should be one that's marked n95 - or even better, one that's labeled p95 or p100.

Make sure to use both straps, and pinch the bridge to fit your nose.

Daily nasal rinses, like using a neti pot, and eye drops can help.

At home keep your doors and windows closed. Recirculate your air conditioning and find a safe room in your home.

"Less curtains, less furniture because all of that stuff can hold particulates," Hendel said.

The best room in your house is one where you can control the environment and run an air purifier. Look for one with a HEPA filter, if possible.
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