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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist with the Schmidt Chest Clinic at Intermountain Medical Center, on Wednesday, March 6, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — Lingering pollution may do more than exacerbate asthma and other lung illness symptoms, although those problems are serious enough for sufferers of various breathing diseases.

"Long-term, poor air quality affects us all," said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist at the C. DuWayne Schmidt Chest Clinic at Intermountain Medical Center. Regardless of a person's medical history, poor air quality in Utah is "definitely a concern," she said.

It may be obvious that patients with diagnosed asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other illnesses that affect proper breathing are impacted by bad air quality. But Blagev said researchers are discovering links to cardiovascular issues and increased risk of heart attacks as tiny particulates from polluted air enter the bloodstream and circulate through the body.

Blagev and Sara Russell, a pulmonary nurse coordinator at the clinic, will participate in the Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline on Saturday, where they will answer questions from the public regarding respiratory and pulmonary health. Anyone interested in speaking with the duo can call 1-800-925-8177 between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon, or post a question on the Deseret News Facebook page.

The doctor said people with diagnosed breathing difficulties need to limit their exposure to bad air, but also mitigate episodes with prescribed medications and often rescue inhalers. Air filtering systems can help keep the bad air outside of the home and even those who aren't asthmatic should avoid exercising outdoors during a period of inversion.

Avoiding air pollution altogether yields the greatest results, but is not feasible for everyone.

"Ultimately, pollution is what we emit and what we emit hangs over us and doesn't clear," Blagev said. "Trying to cut our emissions, while we all say it's important, is not something that is easy to do."

Not a lot of information is available regarding how pollution affects heart and lung function, but Blagev said studies are ongoing as more people seem to be affected. She blogs about air quality and other issues at mybetterdoctor.com.

Fine particle air pollution, she said, enters the bloodstream and somehow affects platelets, which are responsible for clotting the blood. It then contributes to inflammation and increased clotting, leading to unexpected effects in a person's heart, including more frequent stroke or heart attack occurrences during a period of inversion.

Regular face masks don't filter the tiny matter from the air, Blagev said, adding that patients need to be vigilant about treating their own conditions and avoiding bad air as much as possible. "Those individuals who are already diagnosed need to make sure they have a clear plan set forth with their doctor on what they can do when an inversion happens and what kinds of medications they can use to manage their condition," she said.

Typical symptoms of asthma, which can be exacerbated by pollution, are chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, a scratchy throat and/or a dry, persistent cough. Many people, Blagev said, aren't aware that they might have asthma, instead of a lingering cold or flu virus.

People can contract asthma as lungs develop during childhood, or as they age, in the mid-50s. Many of the symptoms are falsely attributed to getting older or being out of shape but are, in fact, related to asthma, Blagev said.

She said people who live in areas where pollution is present can develop asthma over time.

Saturday: A closer look at various respiratory illnesses

Hotline Saturday

The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline focuses on respiratory and pulmonary health. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist at the Schmidt Chest Clinic at Intermountain Medical Center, and Sara Russell, a pulmonary nurse coordinator at the clinic, will answer questions from the public. Call 1-800-925-8177, toll-free during that time. Those interested can also post questions during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/DeseretNews.

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