As many of us begin to return to school, work and the busyness of our lives in the wake of Hurricane Irene, it’s important that we maintain the health of our lungs which can be at risk from floodwaters, debris, chemicals, mold and other remnants of this storm. We are all at risk, especially those suffering from asthma, COPD, emphysema or other forms of lung disease. In the clean up, we should make use of these tips:
Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Never use generators, power washers, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane or charcoal-burning equipment indoors. Don’t heat your house with a gas oven. If your carbon monoxide detector sounds, leave the house immediately and call 911. Watch for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning – If you or others in your house feel dizzy, lightheaded, or nauseated, get out of the house and seek medical help immediately.
Remove Hazardous Materials. Chemicals and other dangerous materials may have come into your house or yard during the storm. You may also have to dispose of household chemicals that have been damaged. Call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802. Contact local authorities to inspect or remove chemical drums, propane tanks or other major problems with dangerous materials. Wear protective clothing and an N95 face mask to protect your skin and lungs if you are handling materials yourself. Don’t burn debris or waste. Remove it to a designated disposal area.
Clean Up Mold. Dry out the building as quickly as possible; Open doors and windows. If water has been in the building longer than 24 to 48 hours or the mold is larger than 10 sq.ft, get professional help. Don’t’ try to tackle it alone. Protect yourself and your family: Wear gloves, goggles and an N95 face mask to protect your eyes and throat while working on mold and toss mold damaged materials in a plastic bag to discard. When in doubt, toss it out! Remove everything that has been soaked by water, including clothing, papers, furnishings, carpet, ceiling tiles, and wallboard - Anything that cannot be cleaned and dried must be discarded. Use soap and water to scrub mold off hard surfaces, like tile and concrete. Be careful of hidden mold from windblown rain, especially if you have vinyl wallpaper or large mirrors on an outside wall. It can be in the wall behind.
Take Your Medicine. If you have a chronic illness like asthma or emphysema, it is very important that you get back to your normal routine of medicines. Get medical help if you have lost your medicines or can’t remember what you are supposed to be taking.
Prevent Illness. Wash your hands often, especially if you are living in crowded conditions or in contact with contaminated water. Protect yourself from mosquito bites. Get a flu shot this fall.
Be Aware of Breathing Problems. It is not unusual after a natural disaster for people to develop lung problems, even if they have never had them before. Don’t wait to get medical help if you start having breathing problems. Keep an eye on family members too, especially children and seniors. Some warning signs are: Coughing, especially coughing at night, wheezing or feeling short of breath, chest tightness or pain. CRITICAL SIGNS: Get emergency medical help if fingernails or lips are turning blue or if there is severe chest pain. Both could be life-threatening.
Let’s all breathe well after Hurricane Irene. More resources on protecting lung health from hurricanes and flooding can be found at www.lungusa.org by searching on “Hurricanes and Flooding.”