Utahns battle inversion this winter

Posted at 10:14 PM, Dec 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-12-13 00:14:43-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Northern Utah is a few days into the first inversion of this winter season and it’s expected to last another week. Air quality is considered unhealthy in many counties and all that pollution is taking a toll on people with respiratory conditions. Several hospitals, including Intermountain Medical Center, are seeing more patients complaining about the bad air.

“Deep breath,” said Dr. Denitza Blagev to Justin Dickerson.

Dickerson is in a pulmonologist's office because the inversion has made his asthma worse.

Dickerson told Blagev he’s been using his inhaler probably every other hour on top of using his nebulizer.

Typically, Dickerson uses a rescue inhaler once a day. Now it’s up to a dozen times a day.

"Imagine if you were living in the tailpipe of a car,” Dickerson said. “That's essentially what it feels like to have asthma in the valley during an inversion."

Albuterol is only temporarily relief. It’s not enough to counter the particle pollution that will rob him of his energy.

"We're definitely fielding more phone calls from people complaining of shortness of breath, chest tightness and having more difficulty controlling their asthma or COPD or emphysema," Blagev said.

Blagev noticed an increase in phone calls and patients a few days ago. Anecdotally, she says it feels it hit sooner this winter than last season. And even as Utah regulators have passed a plan to improve winter air quality, critics say the clean-up isn't happening fast enough.

The Wasatch Front wouldn't be in compliance with federal standards until 2019. For now, people like Dickerson just stay indoors more than they'd like.

"Indoors you have better filters and less particulates you're breathing in," Blagev said.

It’s not the quality of life Dickerson knew growing up in Utah. And after returning to the state a couple years ago to work in the medical profession, “you know my wife and I have talked quite a bit about was it the best choice for our family to come back to Salt Lake given how bad the air quality is during the winter."

Staying indoors, getting above the inversion and take the proper medication, are all tips Blagev recommends.