'It's just shocking when you look out at it,' says doctor about inversion

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SALT LAKE CITY — As the inversion intensifies along the Wasatch Front, doctors are getting more calls from patients with breathing problems.

"It's just shocking when you look out at it, and you can see the particulates in the air," said Dr. Denitza Blagev, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Intermountain Medical Center, who cares for patients with respiratory ailments.

The Utah Division of Air Quality will list the air quality "unhealthy" for at least the next three days in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah Counties, and it's getting worse each day in neighboring counties.

When Dr. Blagev flew in to Salt Lake City for a job interview three years ago, she said pollution shrouded the valley.

"When we came back, and the air was clear, I said 'Oh, there are lots of mountains around that we weren't able to see when we came,' " Blagev said.

Now, the pulmonologist helps patients most sensitive to the pollution.

"There are so many people that are suffering from it," she said.

Patients with asthma, or COPD, and people with heart disease are at risk, as well as the very young and the very old.

5 tips to protect from some immediate effects of air pollution:
  • Take your medications. If you are affected by the air quality and have irritation from your lung disease, follow your action plan and use your rescue inhalers as recommended by your doctor.
  • 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 breathe outside
  • Go to a higher altitude, if possible. Go for a hike in the mountains, or go skiing, if you can.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors. Deeper breathes bring the pollution particles deeper into our lungs.
  • Try to limit emissions from our cars. 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.

"Children that have asthma already, when they go into the bad air they can trigger the asthma and make their symptoms worse," Blagev said.

However, she said long-term exposure can increase people's risk for asthma, even if they currently do not have asthma.

Blagev said studies show people who are exposed to more air pollution, are all at higher risk for developing asthma, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and higher rates of death.

"We're breathing it, and it's terrible for us. Most of what we're breathing is the exhaust that comes out of our cars. Try to avoid breathing the air, which seems crazy," Blagev said. "The best way to do that is to stay indoors."

When the pollution particles get in our lungs, any of us can feel chest tightening, throat irritation and eye watering.

"If you are breathing stuff you can see, that's not good for your lungs," she said.

Blagev said everyone reacts to the pollution differently, but we are all exposed. That exposure puts everyone at risk for lung and heart disease.


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Jed Boal


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