Southeastern Wisconsin facing 1-2 respiratory punch of pollen, wildfire smoke

NOW: Southeastern Wisconsin facing 1-2 respiratory punch of pollen, wildfire smoke

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A combination of high pollen count and wildfire smoke from Canada is "wreaking havoc" on patients with respiratory issues, experts in southeastern Wisconsin say.

That includes Bret Lipshutz of Milwaukee.

"I've lived with allergies my whole life," Lipshutz told CBS 58.

For allergy sufferers like him, outdoor activities have been hampered by the familiar culprit of pollen.

"This year, when the season started, I was so miserable," Lipshutz said. "My breathing was really bad."

He's managed by using allergy medicine but says another problem has made this spring especially difficult.

"The thing that I find that's the worst is when there are wildfires, and it comes through the air and there's no rain."

Doctors say the one-two punch of pollen and wildfire smoke from Canadian wildfires has led to lots of calls from patients seeking relief.

"The wildfire smoke is definitely a significant irritant," Dr. Nathan Lebak, an allergist with Aurora Health Care, told CBS 58 in an interview. "So, in conjunction with their regular allergic symptoms of nasal congestion and drainage, we're seeing a lot more irritation-based stuff in the chest."

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

"We're seeing a little bit of a mixture of those two, which is really wreaking havoc on noses and eyes, as well as asthma," Lebak said.

On top of the pollen, wildfires from Alberta 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 air pollutant particles.

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

Relief from wildfires is set to arrive soon as weather patterns push 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, eventful spring for us," Czarnecki said.

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

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

The EPA has recently started utilizing corrected data from air quality sensors to fill in the spatial gaps between regulatory air monitors.

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

Share this article: