Doctors dish on bad air quality, healthy lungs

Published: Saturday, March 9 2013 3:30 p.m. MST

Any time a cold lasts longer than a week or two and is accompanied by a persistent, dry cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, asthma could be to blame.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Oxygen is necessary for optimal health, and anything inhibiting proper levels should be investigated and treated to increase a person's quality of life.

"We all need oxygen to survive, and not getting enough is bad for our bodies," said Dr. Denitza Blagev, who participated in the Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline on Saturday.

Blagev, a pulmonologist at the Intermountain Medical Center C. DuWayne Schmidt Chest Clinic, said it is important to find out what is causing low oxygen levels because it could involve more than the lungs.

Diseases of the heart and muscles might also result in a struggle for air, leading to low oxygen levels, which is less than 90 percent for most adults and less than 93 percent for young people.

Oxygen levels can be easily tested with a pulse oximeter at many physician offices, and a diagnosis may lead to better treatment and not just being stuck with an oxygen machine at home, Blagev said.

Those who are dealing with oxygen at home should know that a continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, is adjustable, and while its main function is to open the airway, various things can be done to make delivery of air more comfortable.

Sara Russell, the pulmonary nurse coordinator at the Schmidt Chest Clinic, who also participated in the hotline Saturday, said comfort leads to better compliance when using the machines.

The majority of callers to the hotline had questions regarding their treatment of asthma or other breathing disorders, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is common among smokers and many individuals with lungs that have been damaged by exposure to poor air quality, Blagev said.

Any time a cold lasts longer than a week or two and is accompanied by a persistent, dry cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, asthma could be to blame.

The doctor and nurse duo believe many parents are unaware of the symptoms of asthma and often delay treatment for their children, passing the condition off as a cold or recurrent infection.

"Asthma patients are always living with some inflammation in their lungs," Russell said, adding that maintenance medications help to keep the inflammation down, delaying outbreaks and exacerbation of difficult breathing for many.

Poor air quality, which is a primary topic of study for Blagev, "is one of the key contributors to the decline in global health," she said. While many of the long-term impacts of pollution are yet to be determined, she said it is best to avoid it whenever possible.

The health hotline is offered to readers through a partnership between Intermountain Healthcare and the Deseret News. It covers a different health topic the second Saturday of each month.

E-mail: wleonard@deseretnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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