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Inversion brings bad air, health problems; doctors offer tips to help

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 4:20 p.m. MST

Smog and fog gather over the BYU campus in the valley during the inversion Friday, Dec. 13, 2013, in Provo.

Tom Smart, Deseret News/KSL Chopper Five

MURRAY — Doctors at Intermountain Medical Center have seen an increase in the number of calls and discussions with patients about breathing problems related to the first winter inversion along the Wasatch Front, according to a press release from Intermountain Healthcare.

Among those seeing a spike in patients and calls from concerned patients is Dr. Denitza Blagev a pulmonary and critical care physician at Intermountain Medical Center, who cares for patients with respiratory ailments.

The Utah Division of Air Quality lists the air as "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" for the next three days, and Blagev is encouraging those who suffer from respiratory illnesses to reduce their risk of ending up in the emergency room.

When air pollution levels are high, people are more likely to have a heart attack. Research shows that during periods of air pollution people with chronic lung and heart disease, such as asthma, cardiopulmonary disorder or heart failure, are especially at high risk for an exacerbation, or worsening, of their disease.

Inversion happens during winter when cold air settles over the valley, a warm front can come through and keep the cold, polluted air like a smog blanket, Blagev said.

Blagev offered tips to minimize the effects of the inversion:

1. Take your medications as directed. If you are affected by the air quality and have an exacerbation of your lung disease, make sure to follow your action plan and use your rescue inhalers, or step up your therapy as recommended by your doctor. If you do not have an action plan, make sure to address it at your next doctor's visit in anticipation of the next inversion.

2. Stay indoors. Air conditioning and heating units in buildings have filtration systems that filter out a lot of the particles in the air that you would be breathing outside.

3. Go to a higher altitude. Another, if less practical, way of avoiding the air pollution is to simply go up one of the canyons to enjoy the clean mountain air.

4. Avoid exercising outdoors. When we exercise, we take deeper breaths bringing in the pollution deeper into the lungs and absorbing more of it. Exercising indoors (or above the pollution) will help protect you from the damage the air pollution can cause to your airways. Some of the smallest, and most deleterious particles, are absorbed into the blood after entering the lungs. Wearing a simple face mask will not be protective for this type of pollution.

5. Try to limit emissions. Cars, log burning, and industrial sources emit pollutants in the air. Long term we need to work together to develop systems that help us improve our air quality. Try to use public transportation instead of driving, slow down on the freeways to increase vehicle efficiency, and work together to reduce our emissions.

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