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A dark smog spread across the Eastern United States this week due to wildfires raging across Canada, bringing along toxic nanoparticles that are hazardous to human health.
US health officials have urged residents to stay indoors and only go out for absolute necessities and have shared 12 warning signs you may have inhaled the tiny particles.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning the public of headaches, stinging eyes and other health issues that may arise after being outdoors.
Additionally, keeping outdoor irritants from getting inside is critical.
‘Make sure you wash off any of the pollen or anything you bring from outside to inside,’ Kenneth Mendez, CEO and president of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), told DailyMail.com.
‘You spend 90 percent of your time indoors. Don’t bring in the other allergens from outside.’
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoke inhalation can cause a host of health effects, including headaches, sinus issues, trouble breathing, tiredness, and asthma attacks
The smoke has filled the air with tiny particles called PM2.5, measuring around 2.5 micrometers.
In comparison, a single human hair is about 70 micrometers, and the human eye can’t see anything smaller than 25 micrometers, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The health impact of a particle concentration of 22μg/m3 per 24 hours is equivalent to about one cigarette.
If you must go outside, experts have recommended wearing an N95 face mask to filter out pollutants.
Inhaling these particles can cause inflammation in the heart and lungs, leading to chronic illnesses such as asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
‘What we tell people is to monitor the outdoor air quality because that has an impact on your allergies and asthma,’ Mr Mendez said.
However, there are more immediate effects as well.
Below are signs of exposure to fine-particle pollution, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Smoke and other pollutants can irritate the respiratory tract’s mucous membranes or inner lining.
When this happens, it causes tightening of the airways and increased mucus production. Your body then has the reflex to cough.
The cough can either be productive (wet), which brings up mucus from the lungs, or dry (non-productive), which doesn’t bring up any mucus.
Smoke and other irritants can also trigger damage to air sacs, airways, and the lining of the lungs.
Injured lungs have difficulty moving enough air in and out, which can make breathing difficult.
People with conditions such as asthma, COPD, and long Covid are more likely to have more trouble breathing than others, though this can happen after just a few minutes of exposure.
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that may happen when you try to breathe.
This can happen while breathing out or breathing in.
Wheezing occurs when inflammation causes the airways in any location, from the throat to the lungs, to narrow, according to the Mayo Clinic.
The Asthma and Allergy Network (AAN) estimates that 26 million Americans are diagnosed with asthma. About one in 12 children have the condition.
Wildfire smoke can cause even those with normally controlled symptoms to start experiencing worsening symptoms.
According to the AAN, early signs of an asthma attack include an itchy throat, difficulty breathing, and pain or tightness in the chest.
Smoke can also cause stinging eyes (Stock image)
Wildfire smoke can make the air dry, and the irritants flying around can inflame the eyes.
The eyes have three tear layers: the outer oily later, the middle watery layer, and the inner mucus layer.
Smoke affects the outer layer, which causes the inner layers to dry out. This leads to the eyes stinging, burning, and turning red.
The damage smoke does to the airways and lungs can also make your throat feel scratchy or sore.
The smoky air removes moisture from the throat that normally keeps it lubricated. Without that moisture, it becomes dry and irritated.
The nose has a lining of tiny hair-like structures called cilia, which keep it clear of irritants, bacteria, and mucus.
Smoke inhalation can damage the cilia and cause them to stop functioning. In some cases, this causes excess mucus production in the nose, resulting in a runny nose.
Damage to the cilia can cause other symptoms similar to sinusitis, or a sinus infection.
According to Cleveland Clinic, these include a stuffy nose, pressure in the face, postnasal drip, ear pressure, and fever.
Sinus blockage and congestion from smoke have been shown to cause headaches.
A study published in January by Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, for example, found a correlation between wildfires in California and people reporting tension headaches.
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache, resulting in mild to moderate pain that feels like a tight band around the head.
Smoke inhalation can also leave people suffering from headaches (stock image)
According to the Sleep Foundation, air particles from wildfire smoke can travel to the frontal cortex and the cerebellum in the brain. These parts control sleep.
Too much smoke also results in less oxygen flowing into the bloodstream, narrowing blood vessels.
This requires the heart to work harder, and that increased energy can make you feel tired.
As irritants travel to the respiratory tract, you may feel pain or tightness in your chest.
This is due to reduced oxygen flow to the heart.
In addition, excessive coughing from the smoke can make your chest hurt.
Similar to how reduced blood flow to the heart causes chest pain and exhaustion, it can also result in a faster-than-normal heart rate.
This is due to the heart needing to work harder in order to keep functioning.
A heart rate over 100 beats per minute is considered tachycardia, which results in palpitations, chest pain, lightheadedness, and shortness of breath, according to Mayo Clinic.