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A woman sits alone in a smokey BBQ restaurant.

Finding a New Asthma Trigger

Just when I thought I had experienced every asthma trigger out there, along came a new one!

I had a work trip to Moab, Utah, for a radon conference. Did you know radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States? But back to Moab. If you have not seen Delicate Arch, you are missing out! The conference was great, and the scenery was even better.1

After my conference, I had to find a safe place to eat. I am allergic to finned fish and shellfish, so it can be challenging to locate a restaurant that doesn't serve seafood. Luckily, I found a wood-fired BBQ place. I loved the theme, and the food was delicious! Unfortunately, it also made me smell like a campfire.

When I crawled into my hotel bed, I noticed my hair smelled smokey. It was late, and I was too tired to wash my hair. It would be easier if I had short hair, but my hair is long, thick, and curly. If you are reading this and also have long, thick, curly hair, you know the struggle to care for it is real. I had just washed my hair that morning, and it literally takes hours to air dry.

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So I decided to go to sleep. Bad idea.

Late-night asthma attack

I woke up coughing and disoriented. It took a while for me to realize I was in a hotel room, and I needed to figure out where I put my inhaler.

I found it and took a few puffs, and then my heart started racing. I couldn't get back to sleep because I was thinking about why the smoke in my hair triggered an asthma attack.

I had been sitting close to the kitchen at the restaurant, and it was a small place. It smelled good when I was there, but I should have known better. When I entered the restaurant, I noticed a row of big baskets filled with split logs. I thought they were just for decor, but nope. Apparently, that is what they used to power their barbecues.

Ugh, why does everything have to be so hard when you have asthma?!

Tiny particles

Did you know there are TINY particles in wood fire smoke? They are called PM 2.5. The PM stands for particulate matter. And 2.5 micrometers is the size of the particle.2

So, 2.5 micrometers is REALLY small – much smaller than a grain of sand. They are so small they can only be seen with a special electron microscope. To give you an idea, they are 1/30th the size of a human hair. That makes it easy for them to be inhaled deep into the smallest part of our lungs. The particles can also make it into the bloodstream.2

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), PM 2.5 has been linked to:3

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nonfatal heart attacks
  • Premature death in those with lung or heart disease
  • Asthma
  • Decrease in lung function
  • Irritation of the airways, which can lead to coughing and difficulty breathing

My takeaway from this experience is that the next time I want wood-fired BBQ, I need to get takeout and sit elsewhere to eat. If I sit outside the restaurant, I'll still inhale the PM 2.5 from the smokestacks. When I'm traveling, I'll go back and eat in my hotel room, where my lungs are nice and safe because they're breathing filtered air.

Has anyone else experienced an asthma attack from eating in a restaurant that uses wood for their grills? Share in the comments below!

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