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COVID or smoke? Residents feeling impacts of poor air quality

Posted at 5:57 PM, Aug 10, 2021

SALT LAKE CITY — Many people are complaining of sore throat, itchy eyes, and other bothersome symptoms following several days of poor air quality in Utah.

“I am really upset about the smoke in the air. I have sensitive eyes. I remember the smog in LA years ago it always hurt my eyes and that’s how I have been feeling in the last three or four days,” John Spikes said while on a walk with his friend Dave Kimball.

Kimball is also not feeling well.

“Itchy eyes, little scratchy throat. I am not as upset as he is but he answers for everything I feel,” he said while laughing.

WATCH: Poor air quality causing worsening symptoms for some COVID-19 long haulers

Many symptoms residents are experiencing due to the poor air quality mirror viral illnesses, such as COVID-19, said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonologist with Intermountain Healthcare.

“One thing to know is if you’re at all expectant that it is COVID, whether it is because you have any high-risk exposures or especially if you have cough, shortness of breath I think those are reasons to get tested for COVID,” she said.

WATCH: How to make air in Utah homes safer from wildfire smoke

People should pay attention to their symptoms, how long they last and how severe they are, Dr. Blagev added.

“Some symptoms that are not suggestive of COVID, so when people complain of irritation in their eyes or some people will get a headache or something like that. I think that is less suggestive of a viral infection,” she said.

People are more susceptible to viral illnesses when the air quality is poor.

READ: Salt Lake City ranks fourth worst city in the world for air quality Tuesday morning

“The same way that your skin protects you, when you get a cut on your skin, you are more likely to get infected with something if you come in contact with it. The normal lungs that are not inflamed have a number of mechanisms to really clear out viruses and bacteria that we are constantly breathing in. If we have air pollution, that really inflames and injures that airway epithelium,” she said.

Spikes and Kimball said its especially frustrating because the smoke the air isn’t even coming from Utah wildfires.

“I don’t like it at all, I don’t know what the answer is but it is very uncomfortable,” Spikes said.