Quick Takes

Kentuckians warned about poor air quality from Canadian fires

By: - June 8, 2023 12:40 pm

Rachel Keith is an associate professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and the director of human studies at the Envirome  Institute as well as an advanced practice registered nurse with UofL Health. 

Poor air quality from Canadian fires prompted a warning Thursday about potential negative health effects for Kentuckians.

Air pollution can negatively affect a person’s health, according to Rachel Keith, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and the director of human studies at the Envirome Institute as well as an advanced practice registered nurse with UofL Health. 

“We know that what goes into your body and what’s around your body has as much if not more impact than the genes you get,” Keith explained. Environmental interactions account for most chronic illnesses, she said. 

People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are more likely to suffer immediately, she said, but air pollution can have long term effects on health as well. 

Air pollution can trigger heart attacks, Keith said. Exposure over time can increase the risk of heart disease, some cancers and diabetes. 

If people with asthma or COPD feel they need to use inhalers but it’s not helping, “and you still feel like you are having that air hunger or still having an asthma attack” it’s time to see a doctor, Keith said. 

Also keep an eye out for signs of a heart attack: pain and chest pressure, nausea, lightheadedness. 

“We should still limit our outside time at these times” when air quality is really bad, Keith said. “We should limit our exposure.” 

Even people not predisposed to things like heart disease can experience throat irritation, Keith said, and burning eyes. 

If you must be out in poor air quality, an N95 mask can help protect your body, she said. But: “Limiting your exposure is the best prevention.” 

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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.

Kentucky Lantern is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.

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