SALT LAKE CITY — When 18-year-old Benyse Merrill woke up Sunday morning and looked outside, she knew it was going to have to be another day stuck inside.
The smoky air, which the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) labeled as "unhealthy," is making Merrill's symptoms worse. She is a COVID-19 long-hauler.
“With all the smoke and the air everything that is going down, it is worse than it has ever been,” she said.
Merrill and her parents are long haulers, and they have been suffering for months with lingering COVID-19 symptoms and new ones as well.
“A lot of things hurt. I didn’t think that would be sort of a constant in my life — at least until I was 90 and had arthritis,” she said, adding that extreme fatigue has made her rethink many aspects of her life.
The recent high school grad said many of her symptoms are much worse right now.
“It has made it a lot worse; I would say at least three to four times worse than it usually is, and also with that, my lungs have started hurting, which is not something that I had before,” she said.
The smaller particulates in the air are making their way deep into the lungs, which is where many log haulers have damage according to Dr. Dixie Harris, a pulmonary medicine and critical care physician with Intermountain Healthcare.
“For these poor long-hauler patients, it is getting way down in their air sacs or alveoli, and it is irritating and inflaming and that adds to the inflammatory cells get revved up and can really cause some shortness of breath and inhibit the ability to absorb oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide, so it can very much impact the air exchange that needs to be happening,” she said.
There aren’t many treatment options other than trying to stay inside and limit exposure, Dr. Harris said. People can also wear a mask outside.
“Even the indoor air will start becoming polluted because there is only so much our home air conditioners can filter. The other thing is there isn’t really anywhere within a reasonable driving distance for people to get out of it,” she said.
It is infuriating, Merrill said.
“I am an outdoor person and I love going outside," she said. "I love being out and about and hiking and walking and talking, as well. I do a lot of talking to people. I love it, but with my throat feeling like there are daggers in there, whenever I try to open my mouth when I am talking to people, it is awful, and I hate it."
Merrill is hopeful for clearer days ahead. Her symptoms will not be gone with the smoke, but at least she said things will be more manageable.
“A couple of days I have woken up and it’s bad, like I can barely talk. It was not good,” she said.
If you are a COVID long hauler and live in Utah, you can join this Facebook group.
To check the air forecast by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), click here.