Southeastern Wisconsin faces 1-2 respiratory hits from pollen and wildfire smoke

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — A combination of high pollen and smoke from Canadian wildfires is “wreaking havoc” on patients with respiratory problems, experts in southeast Wisconsin say.

That includes Milwaukee’s Bret Lipshutz.

“I’ve lived with allergies my whole life,” Lipshutz told CBS 58.

For allergy sufferers like him, outdoor activities have been hampered by the well-known pollen culprit.

“This year when the season started, I was pretty miserable,” Lipshutz said. “My breathing was very bad.”

She managed using allergy medication, but says another problem has made this spring especially difficult.

“What I find to be worse is when there are forest fires, and it comes through the air and it doesn’t rain.”

Doctors say the double whammy of pollen and wildfire smoke from the Canadian wildfires has prompted many calls from patients seeking relief.

“Wildfire smoke is definitely a major irritant,” Dr. Nathan Lebak, an allergist with Aurora Health Care, told CBS 58 in an interview. “So along with your regular allergic symptoms of nasal congestion and drainage, we’re seeing a lot more irritation-based things in the chest.”

Dr. Lebak said pollen counts have increased year on year, and this spring, tree and grass pollen have been at moderate to high levels due to a lack of rain.

“We’re seeing a bit of a mix of those two, which is really wreaking havoc on the nose and eyes, as well as asthma,” Lebak said.

In addition to pollen, the Alberta wildfires in June and Quebec this month have led to multiple air quality advisories from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, particularly PM2.5, or fine particulate air pollutants.

“Since 2012, the DNR has only issued three PM2.5 advisories in the spring, and all three have been this spring,” Craig Czarnecki of DNR’s Air Management Program told CBS 58.

Wildfire relief is expected to arrive soon as weather patterns move smoke away from the region, but the DNR says its focus will soon shift to summer’s impact on air quality.

“It’s definitely been an unusual and eventful spring for us,” Czarnecki said.

Dr. Lebak encourages people with respiratory problems to be consistent with medication, keep tools like inhalers close by, close windows at night, and shower before bed to help remove pollen particles from the skin and throat. clothing to allow for easy sleeping.

The DNR also encourages people to stay informed by using the following:

EPA recently began using corrected data from air quality sensors to fill in the spatial gaps between regulatory air monitors.

EPA’s web map incorporates corrected purple air data from across the country into its fire and smoke map which can be found here.