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Lowcountry asthma patients suffering due to mountain wildfire

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Charleston Wildfires Smoke

A couple walks on the beach Thursday at Sullivan's Island as smoke from wildfires in the mountains of South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia hovers over downtown Charleston. Brad Nettles/Staff

Jasmine Matthews, a 7-year-old asthma patient, has battled red and irritated eyes, chest pains and shortness of breath since Saturday.

Her doctor at Charleston Allergy and Asthma put her on a breathing treatment Thursday, hoping it would offset the smoky conditions in the Lowcountry caused by the mountainous wildfires, including one atop Pinnacle Mountain in Pickens County.

“She came to me and told me how much her chest hurts and so the treatment should get her lung functioning back to where it needs to be,” said Jennifer Matthews, Jasmine’s mother.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control says the large wildfires are producing smoke plumes that are making conditions worse for those who suffer from chronic heart and lung diseases.

Dozens of wildfires that have burned an estimated 190 square miles across the Southeast continue to throw a shroud of smoke over the region.

Daily air-quality reports from the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies show pollutants have reached unhealthy levels across Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee as well as portions of Alabama, North Carolina, Kentucky and Virginia.

Dr. Thomas Harper of the physicians Charleston Allergy and Asthma said his office is seeing multiple patients each day due to the smoke.

“Our facilities have reported three to five patients each day who are coming in because they’ve had asthma attacks,” Harper said, adding that child asthma patients can be especially vulnerable to the smoke.

Another code orange air quality alert was issued Thursday and will last through midnight Friday. The alert indicates that fine particles from smoke could approach dangerous levels for sensitive adults, according to the National Weather Service.

Dr. William Dawson, a pulmonologist with Charleston Pulmonary Associates, said there is a “substantial burden of suffering” for lung disease patients and those with chronic issues.

Dawson said his practice, which is affiliated with Roper St. Francis, also has seen an uptick in calls.

“It hit pretty quickly, and it may take a few weeks for patients’ health to get back to normal,” he said. “And time will tell on whether new asthma cases will arise as a result of this.”

Summerville Medical Center, one of the facilities under Trident Health System, also has reported an increased number of patient visits. Officials with the Roper Health system, the Medical University of South Carolina and East Cooper Medical Center said they haven’t seen an increase in patient visits or emergency room trips.

According to DHEC, those who have respiratory issues should limit time outdoors, keep windows and doors closed, and make sure the filter is clean when using air-conditioning and central heating units.

Dawson said asthma and lung disease patients should take their medications when they’re supposed to. And if they notice a change in the effectiveness of the medicine, they should call their doctor.

Dr. Doug Holtzman, the medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Room at Summerville Medical Center, said flu season can exacerbate symptoms related to smoke inhalation, so it’s important to get a flu shot.

“(The wildfire) is a good lead-in to what we normally see in the winter: respiratory illness, flu, etc.,” he said. “Make sure you have your plan in place as winter approaches.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Derrek Asberry at 843-937-5517. Follow him on Twitter @DerrekAsberry.

Sports Reporter

Derrek Asberry is sports reporter with the Post and Courier. He joined the newsroom in March 2016, after three years at the Aiken Standard where he covered the Savannah River Site. He enjoys New York Yankee baseball and poker.

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