The sight of dead fish lining the shores of some Tampa Bay area waterways can be an arresting view.
For those living around it or always at the beach, the smell can be overwhelming too.
“This is a chemical that has a reaction in the lungs,” said Dr. Richard Lockey, Director of Allergy and Immunology at the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine.
Red tide is a natural occurrence that’s been happening for many years.
“The red tide comes to the surface, it has a bladder in it, the bladder releases along the beach some toxins. Toxins sound horrible, but we come in contact with toxins all the time. These toxins get blown into the shore and we inhale them,” Dr. Lockey said.
That causes us to cough. Offshore winds usually keep respiratory effects experienced by those on the shore to a minimum.
“This is a chemical that has a reaction in the lungs. It produces a certain reaction in the cough mechanism that makes you cough.”
It can make you sneeze as well. For most people, it doesn’t last long, unless you have chronic respiratory issues like COPD or asthma. Then it can be bad.
“We tell patients with asthma to take their medications with them. If they start coughing, use their medications. Or we may adjust their medications to compensate for the red tide toxin,” Dr. Lockey said.
If you do have asthma, it’s best to avoid areas impacted by red tide if you can. Anyone who has persistent symptoms should seek medical attention.