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Stale air can be asthma trigger

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While others in Georgia and South Carolina struggle with the smoke from wildfires, the moderately bad air in Augusta is from stagnant conditions, an official said.

Even normal summertime air well below air pollution warning levels can be a problem for those with chronic lung problems and asthma, a physician warned.

A day after warning that counties including Aiken could be affected by wildfires, such as those in the Carolinas and Georgia, South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control experts predicted no problems for today, spokesman Thom Berry said.

Airnow.gov showed moderately elevated levels of air pollutants for the Aiken-Augusta area but well below unhealthy levels. That is likely the result of air stagnation and not smoke from fires such as those in the Okefenokee Swamp area, said Susan Zimmer-Dauphinee, the program manager of the Ambient Air Monitoring Program of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Those fires caused air particulates to spike Tuesday and could affect Augusta if conditions change, she said.

"Depending on the weather conditions and the wind direction, the smoke from either the North Carolina fire could come down or the smoke from the Okefenokee fires could work their way up," Zimmer-Dauphinee said.

Even when pollution is below warning levels, it can affect people with lung diseases, such as asthma or emphysema, said Dr. Thomas Dillard, a pulmonologist and professor of medicine at Georgia Health Sciences University.

"Normally at this time of year, there's a lot of airborne allergens that are present throughout the warm season," he said. "Those are triggers for asthma to occur."

In summer, lung diseases are often aggravated by conditions, Dillard said. "It is among the more common causes for emergency room or clinic visits and also admission to the hospital during this time of year," he said.

Asthmatic children

Parents of asthmatic children should be especially vigilant this time of year, when air pollutants can build up under stagnant conditions and airborne allergens are common.

One way to help monitor a child is by using a peak flow meter, which measures the air a child blows out and can help gauge whether lung function is beginning to decline, perhaps signaling an attack is coming. This can be subtle, and sometimes the child doesn't even notice a drop in function, said Dr. Thomas Dillard, a pulmonologist at Georgia Health Sciences University.

It's also a good idea to be aware of pollution alerts and to stay indoors on those days as much as possible, Dillard said.

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