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Utah doctors report rise in reported breathing problems likely due to smoky skies

Smoky skies above the Capitol Complex on Aug. 6, 2021. Some doctors say they're seeing an increase in patients with breathing problems.

Smoky skies above the Capitol Complex on Aug. 6, 2021. Some doctors say they're seeing an increase in patients with breathing problems. (Paul Nelson, KSL NewsRadio)

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Doctors are reporting an uptick in the number of people coming in with respiratory problems likely due to the smoky skies in Utah. They believe the number of people with respiratory issues will likely increase over the next couple of weeks.

According to Utah doctors, there is a lag when it comes to bad air pollution days and when people start to report breathing problems. Intermountain Healthcare pulmonary physician Denitza Blagev said this lag could span anywhere from several days to a few weeks since many people assume they'll get better on their own.

However, she's already seeing patients come into her clinic because of the smoky skies in Utah.

"All my patients in the clinic (Monday) morning were reporting symptoms related to the air pollution, ranging from shortness of breath, cough or chest tightness," Blagev said.

She acknowledged there may be a specific reason why so many cases have come in. Blagev reported since the air was so notably dirty on Friday and Saturday, more people are likely to identify those days as when their symptoms started.

Blagev said, "Even people who don't have an underlying lung disease are reporting symptoms, as well."

It's hard to predict exactly how many patients will come in for pollution-related sickness. Blagev said researchers will have to collect the data over the next few weeks and compare it to other years.

Meanwhile, she said the pollution could be especially harmful to people who already had COVID-19 and who are already dealing with other respiratory problems.

"Those patients are at increased risk of having respiratory symptoms with air pollution now that they may not have been bothered by, previously," according to Blagev.

She said people ask her if they should cancel their outdoor activities because of the smoky skies. Blagev believes people should look at the air quality index, and if the air is expected to be dirty, they should rethink their outdoor plans.

"If we're really in the red zone, then definitely," Blagev said.

Smoky skies are expected to continue in parts of northern Utah Tuesday but clear out on Wednesday, KSL Meteorologist Grant Weyman said.

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Paul Nelson


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