Air Quality Concerns and Respiratory Diseases
This past summer was Canada’s worst wildfire season on record. Based solely on the total land area cleared, the fires that continue to burn have sown more destruction than any previously observed wildfire season. But in addition to the destruction of wildlife, these out of control fires have had wide-reaching impacts.
This summer’s wildfires tripled the country’s record high for fire-related carbon emissions. Entire communities were forced to evacuate their homes. Plumes of smoke stretched across the continent. Much of British Columbia was blanketed in smoky skies, prompting air quality advisories in small towns and major cities alike, warning people about the risks associated with the fine particulate matter in wildfire smoke.
At the height of this past wildfire season, the air quality plummeted so low that simply breathing in certain parts of the province was the equivalent of smoking two cigarettes a day. And while this poor quality affects everyone in the community, certain individuals are more vulnerable to its devastating effects.
The elderly, pregnant people, infants, and children are among those who might be most affected by poor air quality. Additionally, people living with chronic respiratory diseases could experience severe health impacts because of wildfire smoke inhalation.
Chronic respiratory diseases encompass a range of conditions that affect the airways and lungs, make it difficult to breathe, and impair the respiratory system’s proper functioning. Examples of chronic respiratory diseases include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- And more
These chronic diseases often cause people to suffer reduced lung function and persistent breathing problems. These symptoms can be easily exacerbated by exposure to dangerous air quality levels, making it difficult for people with chronic respiratory illnesses to leave their homes. It might be impossible for these individuals to carry out regular activities, such as climbing stairs, mowing the lawn, or simply walking around the block.
During air quality warnings, it might be dangerous for people suffering from chronic respiratory diseases to commute to work. It might even be impossible for them to continue performing the duties of their jobs.
Staying Safe When Air Quality is Poor
The best way to mitigate the effects of poor air quality is to limit exposure. During air quality advisories and warnings, vulnerable people (including those living with chronic respiratory diseases) should consider taking the following precautions to stay safe:
- Monitor the Air Quality: Pay attention to local news, use a weather app on your phone, and check websites that monitor the air quality index in your region.
- Stay Indoors: Seal doors and windows to prevent wildfire smoke from entering your home. Consider spending time in shopping malls, community centres, libraries, and other indoor locations.
- Wear a Mask: If you must go outside, consider wearing an N95 respiratory mask.
- Maintain Good Indoor Air Quality: Use air purifiers with HEPA filters to reduce indoor particle levels and ensure proper ventilation.
- Keep Medication Close: If you require prescription or rescue medication, make sure you have enough supply on hand. If your area is evacuated and you do not have access to your prescription, visit a pharmacy for an emergency supply.
- Take it Easy: Do not overexert yourself physically, especially in outdoor settings.
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help deal with inflammation and alleviate symptoms.
- Seek Medical Attention: If you experience breathing difficulties during air quality warnings, seek immediate medical attention.
The Impacts of Poor Air Quality
People suffering from chronic respiratory diseases and other vulnerable people face increased health risks as the result of poor air quality. Smoke inhalation makes it more difficult for lungs to deliver oxygen to the blood. This can lead to severe outcomes for people living with pre-existing respiratory conditions.
Wildfire smoke contains high levels of fine particulate matter, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing inflammation and irritation. Inhaling fine particulate matter can lead to a decrease in oxygen saturation levels in the blood, making it harder for individuals to breathe properly.
Inhaling the irritants contained within wildfire smoke can exacerbate the symptoms of people living with chronic respiratory diseases. These irritants can cause inflammation in the airways, leading to increased mucus production, coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
Exposure to poor air quality can lead to a decrease in lung function, particularly in individuals with compromised respiratory systems. This means that they may have reduced capacity for physical exertion, which can be a significant barrier for jobs that require physical activity.
The reduced oxygen availability can also cause extreme fatigue, resulting in a reduction in overall performance at the workplace.
Smoke can weaken the immune system’s defenses in the respiratory tract. This can make people living with chronic respiratory diseases even more susceptible to respiratory infections than usual. For people living with the fear of hospitalization, the hyper-vigilance they are required to exert during wildfire season can significantly impact their mental health. As such, exposure to poor air quality and the stress of dealing with the impacts of wildfires can have mental health implications, including increased anxiety and depression.
Because of the potentially severe physical and mental effects of living through wildfire season with a chronic respiratory disease, vulnerable individuals may experience a decrease in overall work capacity. In fact, it might be impossible for them to continue working at all because of the impacts of poor air quality.
Long-Term Disability Benefits for People Suffering from Chronic Respiratory Diseases
The physical and mental effects of chronic respiratory issues can make it impossible for certain people to continue working. This may be especially true for people whose symptoms have been exacerbated by the wildfire season.
Depending on the insurance coverage available to them through their employer’s group plan or a policy they hold privately, people suffering from chronic respiratory diseases that impede their ability to continue working may qualify for long-term disability (LTD) benefits. LTD benefits provide recipients with a portion of their regular earnings if their illnesses or injuries make it impossible for them to carry out the duties of their jobs.
LTD benefits are typically available after exhausting the other forms of insurance available to an eligible policyholder, including short-term disability and employment insurance (EI). Some individuals may find the symptoms of their respiratory conditions still prevent them from working after wildfire season has passed. These individuals may qualify for LTD benefits.
Unfortunately, insurance providers do not always make it easy for eligible applicants to get the benefits they should be owed. It can be exceptionally difficult for an LTD benefits claim to receive approval, particularly for policyholders suffering from pre-existing conditions.
Many insurance plans have lengthy “exclusionary periods,” during which a policyholder is ineligible for benefits payments. These exclusionary periods are put into place to prevent people suffering from pre-existing conditions from claiming benefits before they have paid regular monthly premiums for an extended period of time.
If you are suffering from a chronic respiratory disease and can no longer work as a result, you may be entitled to LTD benefits. If your claim for benefits was denied, our long-term disability benefits lawyers may be able to assist you. We are experienced at winning LTD denials for our clients. Contact us today to learn more.
Call Our Long-Term Disability Lawyers Today
This past summer may have been the nation’s worst wildfire season on record, but sadly, that record is already on track to be broken. In fact, wildfire experts forecast the above-average severity to persist throughout much of the country.
The devastating impact of extreme wildfires on the environment and overall climate is a cause for great concern. But people living with chronic respiratory diseases should be particularly concerned about how the effects of wildfires can directly impact their lives and their livelihoods.
As air quality continues to deteriorate in the face of worsening wildfires, those suffering from chronic respiratory diseases may find it impossible to continue working. To learn how our long-term disability lawyers may be able to help you get the coverage you deserve, contact us and schedule a free initial consultation.