Monday, September 12, 2011

FIRE! Are You Prepared?

The last week has been a challenging one for Central Texas, as FIRES have consumed the majority of Bastrop (still only 70% contained) and several other communities have lost many homes. The landscape looks like a war zone, with burned grounds and few standing brick fireplaces remaining. The scope of the devastation is mind-boggling- not just homes destroyed, but businesses and many livestock as well as family pets. People are suffering financially, emotionally and physically.

There are always lessons to be learned in tragedies such as this, so today I'd simply like to encourage everyone to make sure their smoke detectors are working. Do you check the batteries on the first of each month? Do you have a "fire plan" for your family?

Many of our patients have shared their stories of the 30 seconds they had to run and grab their most cherished possessions before they evacuated their homes. Some grabbed financial papers (deeds, titles & mortgages or insurance papers), many grabbed computers, and all who were able grabbed photos. Thanks to the bravery and efficiency of our central Texas firefighters, very few human lives were lost despite the magnitude of these fires.

What is the medical fall-out? Obviously there will be emotional trauma. Happily, computerized prescription records at pharmacies allowed us to easily refill patients' medications lost in the fires. What we are seeing the most right now, though, is upper respiratory irritation. The smoke particles in the air are creating allergy-like symptoms with nasal congestion, headaches and coughs. Remember to use a decongestant (phenylephrine, like Sudafed) if you are stuffed up, hydrate with extra fluids to keep the mucus thin, and schedule an appointment with your family doctor if your symptoms are not improving.

BOTTOM LINE: Fires can happen EVERYWHERE. Make sure your home has a working smoke detector, and check that battery every month (when you check your air filters!)

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