5 things you should do when there's poor air quality

By Denitza Blagev MD

According to a recent study, when air pollution levels are high, people are more likely to have a heart attack.  This study adds to many others already showing that during periods of air pollution people with chronic lung and heart disease, such as asthma, COPD, or heart failure, are especially at high risk for an exacerbation, or worsening, of their disease.  Long term, poor air quality affects us all.  It increases our risk of developing certain kind of cancer, asthma, and even death.​

Poor Air Quality Tip WEB

Although many move here expecting clean mountain air, Utah has high air pollution levels, in part,  because of our geography. During winter when cold air settles over the valley, a warm front can come through and keep the cold, polluted air like a smog blanket suffocating us. We don't necessarily generate more pollution than other cities our size, but the mountains and the cold air trap it during these periods we call "inversions."

In the summer, it is the ground level ozone that forms when the days are hot and long that contributes to air pollution. So how can you protect yourself from some of the immediate effects of air pollution?

  1. Take your medications as directedIf you are affected by the air quality and have an exacerbation of your lung disease, make sure to follow your action plan and use your rescue inhalers, or step up your therapy as recommended by your doctor. If you do not have an action plan, make sure to address it at your next doctor's visit in anticipation of the next inversion.
  2. 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 be breathing outside.
  3. Go to a higher altitude.  Another, if less practical, way of avoiding the air pollution is to simply go up one of the canyons to enjoy the clean mountain air.
  4. Avoid exercising outdoors. When we exercise, we take deeper breaths bringing in the pollution deeper into the lungs and absorbing more of it. Exercising indoors (or above the pollution) will help protect you from the damage the air pollution can cause to your airways. Some of the smallest, and most deleterious particles, are absorbed into the blood after entering the lungs. Wearing a simple face mask will not be protective for this type of pollution.
  5. Try to limit emissions. 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. We should try to use public transportation instead of driving, slow down on the freeways to increase vehicle efficiency, and work together to reduce our emissions.​
Dr. Blagev also blogs at www.MyBetterDoctor.com.