As smoke from multiple wildfires has engulfed Southern California, health officials said Tuesday they have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people going to hospitals with asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. “We are seeing a real spike – a several-fold increase – in people coming in with respiratory complaints, particularly wheezing, coughing, tightness in the chest and difficulty breathing,” said Los Angeles County Public Health Officer Dr. Jonathan E. Fielding. Smoke and ash, along with dust raised by gusting winds, have exaserbated air quality in at least four counties, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “It will affect everyone in some way because it’s a substantial exposure,” said Dr. Chand Khanna, pulmonologist at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital. Overwhelming amounts of particulate matter can cause irritation and chest pain, which can lead to coughing and shortness of breath, Khanna said. “The air here is bad to begin with, so you take the wind with the particulate matter, and then you add all the smoke, and it’s a bad combination.” Local physicians also caution that particulate matter can affect the heart. “Small particles are extremely dangerous for the lungs, but also extremely dangerous for the heart,” said Dr. Lisa Matzer, director of the outpatient center at Glendale Adventist Hospital. “We’re seeing earlier signs of heart disease, and we’re seeing more firemen coming in complaining of chest pains,” she said. “My message out there is, everybody should worry about your heart this week.” [email protected] (213) 974-8985160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREGame Center: Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, 10 a.m.And the poor air quality could linger, said Sam Atwood, AQMD spokesman. “In terms of smog season, we had the cleanest year on record, significantly cleaner than even last year, but (the fires) kind of put a little black mark at the end of smog season because of all the smoke,” Atwood said. And although the Santa Ana winds are expected to decrease today, particulate matter blown out to the ocean can blow back. “If you look at satellite images, there’s smoke blowing out to sea, but some of that smoke could be blown back into the area,” Atwood said. The result will be an increase in breathing problems. “The summer months were pretty slow, but now it’s really going, with about 20 people a day coming in with environmental exposure problems,” said Dr. Marc Kerner, an ear, nose and throat specialist from Northridge Medical Center.