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Experts weigh in on health effects of unhealthy air quality

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- If you have been outside the last couple of days, you probably noticed the haze in the air.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) issued an air quality alert Friday afternoon for the entire state of Minnesota.

The last time that happened was in August of 2018.

"Well, an air quality alert is issued when we expect air to be unhealthy a good portion of the population," said MPCA Air Quality Meteorologist Nick Witcraft.

"The inhalation of wildfire smoke poses a risk to really everybody, but there are certain groups that are at a higher risk than others," said Mayo Clinic Health Systems La Crosse Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Dr. Mark Norton.

People with underlying heath conditions like asthma, COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure and other lung and heart conditions can be significantly impacted when fine particle levels reach these unhealthy levels.

"Really pay attention to your symptoms, because if you're outside and you know the air quality isn't perfect, if you start to experience anything out of the ordinary such as increased shortness of breath or more wheezing, more coughing, any chest pain, anything like that," Norton said. "Then that would be a reason to pause and to say maybe I should get back inside and contact my healthcare provider or even seek more urgent medical attention if things are escalating."

"If you're just running to the store, the doctors office, you know spending say 15 or 20 minutes outside, quickly walk the dog, that's fine," Witcraft said. "But what you don't want to do, if you can help it, is spending an hour or two outdoors. That can definitely give you some respiratory issues."

Health experts recommend limiting your time outdoors and staying in the air conditioning if possible, along with monitoring the air quality.

"The gasses that can be emitted from these wildfires also can be harmful and lead to other manifestations," Norton said. "So, other things to pay attention to would be like headaches, confusion or even runny nose or burning eyes. All those different types of symptoms should be payed attention to and not ignored. And, you should reach out to your health care provider for further guidance if you're experiencing those."

"The base level orange, the sky might look a little hazy, you kind of have a tinge of smoke in the air," Witcraft said. "Where we had the heaviest smoke, that's where you could definitely almost taste the smoke, you could see maybe a half mile down the road. It's definitely noticeable and you're going to feel that in your lungs. And at that point, you probably won't be outside all that long anyways."

Air quality levels in our area will continue to be unhealthy through the weekend. The air quality alert will be in effect until Tuesday, August 3, at 12 p.m.

Sarah Gannon

Sarah Gannon

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