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Does Utah's air quality lead to more sicknesses?


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SALT LAKE CITY -- On a Yellow air quality day like Monday, it is common for some people to feel like they cannot breathe very well.

A recent survey from the Utah Department of Health shows asthma rates actually double the national average for southern Utahns. And some wonder if the poor air quality has anything to do with the increase asthma rates.

Cherise Udall moved to Utah six years ago and she says she's had bad headaches for the last few days, with the rest of her family coughing a lot lately. Since moving to Utah, her daughter is now pre-asthmatic and has had more ear and throat infections than when they lived in the Bay Area in California.

In Southern Utah, 13.6 percent of adults have asthma. Following close behind are residents of the Salt Lake Valley and Tooele residents, who sit at 11 percent. But health experts do not necessarily blame the bad air for increased asthma cases.

"Nobody knows what causes asthma," said Rebecca Jorgensen of the state health department. "We do know that it's a combination of genetic and environmental factors."

Jorgensen added, however, that bad air can make health problems worse for those that have asthma.

"Poor air quality can be a trigger for somebody with asthma," Jorgensen said. "It can cause them to have an asthma attacks, they can have difficulty breathing, feel tightness in their chest or possibly wheezing."


Poor air quality can be a trigger for somebody with asthma. It can cause them to have an asthma attacks, they can have difficulty breathing, feel tightness in their chest or possibly wheezing.

–Rebecca Jorgensen


"There's nothing insidious in the air that is somehow going to build up over time and cause disease, as it were," added Steven Packham of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. "The things we have to protect our lungs from are these short term, acute responses."

Often, along the Wasatch Front, there is a haze that hovers over the valley, and health experts say it is important to pay attention to how you feel.

"We did find an increase in emergency department visits during inversion," Packham said. "But what we were surprised to see is that those visits were not necessarily associated with actual particulates that are in the air."

"The most important thing for people to know is that their body is going to tell them when something's bothering them," added Packham.

Email: niyamba@ksl.com

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