Doctors warn smoky air in Utah can be bad for even healthy lungs

Smoky skies settle over the Salt Lake Valley Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Adam Sotello, KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY – Wildfires in California and southwest Oregon have been blamed for all the smoke blowing into Utah, and experts said it could stick around and possibly get worse over the next few days.

"A lot of times, fires to the west of us are the ones that really bring the smoke here," said Jon Wilson, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. "It all depends on the wind direction – not really the wind direction on the ground, but the wind direction higher up."

"I definitely worry about this," said Dr. Dixie Harris, a pulmonologist with Intermountain Healthcare. "The best thing is not to let it get into the lungs in the first place."

Harris said a lot of smoke, plus high ozone levels, is a bad combination.

"I explain to people that ozone, with the heat, actually kind of burns the lungs. So you've got the ozone burning the lungs and then you have all this debris, particulates, ash and smoke coming into the lungs that your lungs are trying to get rid of," said Harris.

Harris said people with asthma, lung disease and heart conditions have to be very careful, as well as people who have had COVID-19.

"Even if they weren't in the hospital, they still can have some lung damage that they may or may not be aware of," said Harris.

The number one thing is just don't go out and expose your lungs to it for a very long time.

–Dr. Dixie Harris, pulmonologist, Intermountain Healthcare

Doctors warned even people with healthy lungs can be affected by bad air, especially if they're doing strenuous activities like running or hiking.

"The number one thing is just don't go out and expose your lungs to it for a very long time," said Harris.

Harris said if you can, try to minimize your time outside and check air quality levels because they can vary from county to county.

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