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Smoke from B.C. wildfires creating issues for those with respiratory illnesses

The wildfire smoke has made it difficult to be outside for some
The skies above Osoyoos are thick with smoke from the nearby Nk’Mip Creek wildfire. (Twila Amato /Black Press Media)

As wildfires burn out of control and continue to spark throughout the B.C. Interior, thick smoke has made it difficult for some people to be outside.

A healthy person may feel irritation in their eyes and throat and may cough or have phlegm. But for people who may have pre-existing conditions like asthma or cystic fibrosis (CF), the thick smoke has become too much to handle.

Breanna Nathorst is a runner who caught COVID-19 in December last year. She said doctors have told her she has recovered, but the damage from the virus has left her unable to run as she used to.

Now, with all the wildfire smoke in the Central Okanagan, she said that even just walking her dog has been difficult.

“In the first couple of days when the smoke really first came, I had a really bad headache and migraines. I thought maybe I was dehydrated so I was drinking tons of water,” she said.

“But then my nose started hurting. It was kind of a dull aching pain throughout my nasal cavity and into my forehead, which was leading to my headaches.”

READ MORE: Firefighters save bunny sanctuary from blaze in Lake Country

The constant coughs, sneezes, and headaches have been difficult to deal with and have been making her feel tired, Nathorst added.

“The wildfire smoke is basically exacerbating the symptoms I’ve been feeling as I’m recovering from COVID.”

To take care of her health, Nathorst said she hasn’t been running at all since the wildfires started and smoke blew in, as she didn’t want to keep stressing her lungs, now damaged by COVID-19.

Nicole Stringer is battling CF and even though she’s been doing well enough since being prescribed a trial drug, the wildfire smoke hasn’t been helpful.

“Honestly, this smoke is kicking my butt. It’s wiping me out to the point that I’ve had a couple of bad days,” she said.

“It’s really affecting my sinuses and my head and my chest and that’s zapping all of my energy.”

The last year had been challenging with her staying home as much as possible and her husband running all of the errands, during the pandemic, as she is immunocompromised.

Even though restrictions are easing and the pandemic is coming to a close, the smoke is forcing her indoors, making it unbearable to even go out for a short time. Although even being indoors doesn’t bring much relief, Stringer said.

“We have two air purifiers in the house, but it still smells like a campfire,” she said.

“I’m just trying to stay out of it as best I can.”

The BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) advises that people should use at least an air filter in one area of the home to keep the air clean, visiting places like malls, libraries or community centres as they tend to have cleaner indoor air, drinking lots of water, and wearing an N95 respirator if you are working outdoors.

Other information on how you can keep yourself safe during this time is available at the BCCDC’S website.

READ MORE: B.C.’s active wildfires fall to 250, evacuation orders up to 61

READ MORE: Pack your grab-and-go bag before the evacuation alert


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Twila Amato

About the Author: Twila Amato

Twila was a radio reporter based in northern Vancouver Island. She won the Jack Webster Student Journalism Award while at BCIT and received a degree in ancient and modern Greek history from McGill University.
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