Published On: Thu, Aug 22nd, 2019

Amazon Rainforest fire: The devastating impact of inhaling smoke – Carbon Monoxide effects | World | News

Across the Amazon rainforest, fires are burning, turning the skies black with smoke and ash, and triggering a state of emergency. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has faced criticism over his government’s response to the fires – which have now been blazing for 17 days. The Amazon rainforest is often described as the lungs of the planet, and ecologists and environmentalists are concerned at the impact so much devastation could have.

President Bolsonaro said on Thursday that the government lacks the resources to fight wildfires in the Amazon rainforest after satellite images showed a record number of burning spots this year.

In a speech broadcast live on Facebook, the president said the government is investigating the fires.

Scientists are worried the rainforest is approaching an “irreversible tipping point”.

The Amazon rainforest generates more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen and is often referred to as “the lungs of the planet”.

Read More: Amazon rainforest fires: What happens if the Amazon burns down?

Amazon Rainforest fire

Amazon Rainforest fire: Smoke rising from the blaze can be seen from space (Image: NASA)

The world would drastically change if the rainforest were to disappear, impacting everything from farming to the water we drink.

Scientists warn that the forest is in growing danger of degrading into a savannah, severely diminishing its capacity to absorb carbon.

Another impact from the flames is the thick black smoke rising from the forest.

This turned the sky black in Sao Paolo, with thick plumes blocking the sun’s rays from reaching the city.

Read More: Amazon rainforest fire: Real culprit behind rainforest blazes revealed

But what effect does inhaling the smoke have on humans?

Dr Diana Gall from Doctor4U explained to “In most cases, the problems suffered as a result of being exposed to fire, or even deaths are caused by smoke inhalation.

“When you breathe in smoke you’re inhaling all sorts of harmful smoke particles, chemicals, and gases which can cause damage to the respiratory tract and cut off your supply of oxygen.

“Combustion involves using up all of the oxygen around, leaving very little for you to breathe in, this is known as simple asphyxiation.

“Fire also produces chemicals which can cause injury to the skin, mucous membranes, and damage the cells and respiratory tract.

Amazon Rainforest fire

Amazon Rainforest fire: The Amazon rainforest in numbers (Image: EXPRESS)

“All of this affects the delivery of oxygen around the body as the airways become inflamed and narrow.”

“The lack of oxygen is what causes symptoms of rapid breathing and shortness of breath, you may also experience a cough and hoarse voice if you’ve inhaled too much smoke as it irritates the respiratory tract and causes more mucus production.”

Those who suffer from respiratory problems are often the worst affected by smoke inhalation.

Dr Gill explained: “Conditions such as COPD, asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis can be made worse with smoke inhalation.

“The effects of smoke inhalation can get worse very quickly, and I would suggest seeing a doctor as soon as possible if you’ve been exposed to a large amount of smoke and are experiencing some symptoms. 

Read More: Amazon fires satellite image: Amazon wildfires burning at record rate

“If untreated you may develop infections. Depending on how much smoke a person has been exposed to and the level of damage to the respiratory tract, there can long term health implications of smoke inhalation.

“While your lungs take time to heal you may continue to experience shortness of breath, but if you have scarring this may be a side effect you’ll experience long term and you may need inhalers for the rest of your life.”

One of the biggest dangers is carbon monoxide – an odourless, colourless gas which can kill.

Dr Gill said: “Carbon monoxide is one of the compounds produced by fire and is often the leading cause of deaths associated with smoke inhalation.

Amazon Rainforest fire

Amazon Rainforest fire: Flames are seen along the BR364 highway in Guajara-Mirim, Rondonia, the northern Brazilian state close to the amazon forest (Image: REUTERS)

“When carbon monoxide gets into the bloodstream it affects the red blood cells and replaces oxygen with this poisonous gas.

“As carbon monoxide is carried around your body it can cause permanent damage to your vital organs and even death.

“You can’t see carbon monoxide and it’s odourless so you may not be aware that you’ve been exposed to it.

“It’s so important to know the signs of carbon monoxide which are usually a headache, feeling nauseous or vomiting, having difficulty breathing, dizziness and weakness, feeling confused and losing consciousness.

“The difficulty with these warning signs is that they can be subtle and mistaken for another cause, but if you do have any of these symptoms it’s best to get checked out by a doctor urgently.”

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