By Sallie James
Burning eyes. Tingling throats. Coughing and wheezing.
As a spreading toxic red tide algae bloom makes its way down Florida’s east coast, beachgoers and those who live near waterways are complaining of irritating respiratory issues.
Not the sun and fun you’d typically associate with the beach.
Although emergencies rooms at Boca Regional Hospital and Bethesda Hospital East haven’t reported any ailing patients, an internist with Bethesda Health Physicians Group in Palm Beach says he has received some queries.
“It’s not surprising that nobody is ending up in the emergency room with it. The most common symptoms are relatively minor,” said Acey Albert, M.D., a board certified internist. “It really consists of upper respiratory irritation caused by toxins the algae releases into the water. It stays very high in the water and releases a toxin that can then be aerosolized. The surf will create a sea mist that also contains the toxin.”
Albert said onshore winds the past week carried the toxin inland, which is why some people may have experienced a burning sensation in their nose or a scratchy irritation in their throat dubbed the “red tide tickle.”
“It’s all relatively mild but annoying enough that it causes a cough.People can develop a minor skin irritation if they don’t wash the water off,” Albert said. People most at risk as those with asthma or chronic lung diseases like emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
“We are typically advising them to stay away from the coastal areas,” Albert said. “Keep your windows shut, keep the sliding glass doors shut and stay inside the air conditioning or a filtered air environment and the symptoms will go away fairly quickly,” he said.
He said he’s had patients who experienced burning eyes and burning throats but after they went inside, the symptoms vanished.
“I try to head them off at the pass and tell them as long as you go inside the symptoms should go away pretty fast,” Albert said.
He said he also gets lots of questions about seafood and whether it’s safe to eat local seafood if there is a red tide.
“The big concern is oysters, clams and mussels,” he said. “The filter feeders. Shrimp, crabs and stone crab from this area is absolutely safe.”
Fish sold at stores and markets has to be first inspected by the state before it goes to market, he noted.