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Wildfire smoke sends some Utahns to the emergency room

Posted at 5:37 PM, Aug 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-16 19:43:08-04

OGDEN, Utah — In the emergency room at Ogden Regional Medical Center, Dr. Robert Simmons saw a trend over the weekend.

"I've seen multiple patients coming in — asthmatics, patients who have COPD, patients who have underlying lung disease, heart disease — feeling like the air has definitely affected how their breathing and how they're feeling," Simmons said.

For residents in the path of wildfire smoke, which has included most of Utah in recent days, it may not be a surprise. Impossible to ignore, the smoke obscures any distant view and turns a sunny day into a blur of gray.

Government scientists monitoring fires, smoke and air quality combine the information on airnow.gov, which showed the smoke impacting much of western North America from British Columbia to southern Utah, with some mountain towns registering air comparable to a bad day in Beijing.

READ: Salt Lake City once again ranks worst air quality in the world as wildfire smoke moves back in

But the biggest population center suffering from the terrible air was Utah's Wasatch Front.

Dr. Simmons says people with risk factors who have mild symptoms they can control comfortably probably don't need to seek medical help.

But ongoing or escalating discomfort should prompt a trip to the ER.

"Anyone who is developing chest pain, or if they feel like they just cannot catch their breath no matter what they're trying, they need to get right to the hospital to get looked at," Simmons said.

He also said this season there is another population sensitive to bad air.

"We are having patients come in who have previously had covid who feel like their difficulty breathing has returned somewhat. It's not that COVID has been reactivated in them, but they are still suffering from some of the longer-term effects on the lungs when the air gets bad," said Simmons.