Hospitals and clinics in Colorado Springs and Denver experienced an influx of patient visits related to respiratory issues associated with worsened air quality over the past week, officials said.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued air quality alerts for the front range nearly every day during the past two weeks as smoke from out-of-state wildfires settled across the region.
The increased levels of smoke filled the air with more particles, which can irritate lungs, worsen inflammation and exacerbate asthma and other preexisting respiratory conditions, allergist Luke Webb, with the Asthma and Allergy Associates of Colorado Springs, said.
"We've had a lot more calls and acute visits because of worsening nasal symptoms, sore throat or headache that people have associated with occurring or worsening with this poor quality," Webb said.
Unlike allergies, smoke irritation can't be lessened with allergy medicine, but keeping allergies in check can help prevent worsened symptoms, Webb said.
"If your allergies are not well controlled, it will make you more susceptible to developing more symptoms from the smoke," Webb said. "So it's sort of like a snowball effect."
Pulmonologist Dave Beuther, chief medical information officer at National Jewish Health, said his patients who suffer from chronic conditions such as asthma and lung disease experienced more severe versions of their typical symptoms because of the smoke.
Healthy individuals had trouble too.
"You'll have symptoms like burning eyes, irritated throat, maybe a little cough or congestion and you won't feel well," Beuther said. "But when the air quality improves most healthy people will improve."
While the smoke may not effect healthy individuals on a long term basis the population as a whole will be less healthy over time, Beuther said.
"There will be some people that develop, for example, a case of chronic asthma that would not have developed it otherwise because of this air quality problem year after year," Beuther said.
In order to try and lessen the effects of the smoke, Beuther encouraged staying indoors during periods of poor air quality, not exercising vigorously outside and keeping windows shut with air conditioning running when inside.
Beuther said policy changes need to be made to improve air quality and protect citizens.
Many of Beuther's patients who live along the front range are debating leaving the region.
"I have also seen a lot of patients with chronic lung disease who are getting pretty frustrated and tired of this happening every summer," Beuther said. "...they're just struggling to live here in the summer."