SALT LAKE CITY — The longer an inversion lasts, the greater the likelihood a person with asthma will wind up in an emergency room with serious symptoms, a new report by the Utah Department of Heath has found.
However, the analysis of pollution levels during winter inversions for the years 2006-08 found no association between PM2.5 pollutants — particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers — and emergency department visits including up to three days after exposure.
However, people with asthma are 42 percent more likely to go to an emergency room during the fifth to seventh days of continuous inversion compared to days with no inversion.
"While we didn't see an association with PM2.5 pollution and ER visits for asthma, we did find that particulate matter is more likely to reach unhealthy levels during inversions, so people with asthma should still take extra precautions on those days," said UDOH asthma program epidemiologist Celeste Beck.
Dr. Brett Wiesley, emergency department physician at St. Mark's Hospital, said the report's findings jive with his experiences.
"I think there is definitely a correlation" to the duration of an inversion and corresponding uptick of people seeking care for respiratory issues, Wiesley said.
"It not the inversions that last two or three days, it's the inversions that set in for a week. It's not the healthy people we see. It's the people with chronic disease."
The state health department, the National Weather Service and other partners participating in the research plan further research to analyze the characteristics of lengthy inversions that sends people with asthma to the ER.
The Utah Department of Health's asthma program recommends that, during November to March, inversion season, that people with asthma monitor PM2.5 levels.
Other recommendations include:
Avoid or limit exposure to asthma triggers during the inversions.
Wash hands regularly.
Avoid people with upper respiratory infections.
Talk to a health care provider about steps to control asthma, such as stepping up use of controller medications.
Meanwhile, many schools in the Salt Lake Valley were keeping students in for recess periods while the air quality red alert is in effect.
"They (students) do get a little antsy if it's too many days in a row," said Jan Tanner, principal of Jordan School District's Eastlake Elementary School in South Jordan. To help students pass the time, teachers and administrators facilitate indoor games or show videos.
Bonnie Midget, spokeswoman for Primary Children's Medical Center, said the emergency room had not experienced any increase in asthma patients seeking care due to the current inversion. It can be difficult to parse the source of asthma exacerbations this time of year because upper respiratory infections are also a common trigger, she said.
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