Managing Asthma During Utah’s Winter Inversion

Article at a Glance

  • Inversion is when the cold air, clouds, and pollution get trapped in the valley by a layer of warmer air. As a result air pollutants build up.
  • Those with asthma are particularly vulnerable to the effects of poor air quality and we see an increase in ER visits during inversions.
  • Protect your children by monitoring air quality, keeping them indoors when air pollutants are high, and working with your doctor to help manage asthma symptoms.

In Utah County winter means white snow and brown skies. This is because the cold weather brings on a weather pattern called inversion. Inversion is when the cold air, clouds, and pollution get trapped in the valley by a layer of warmer air. The warm air acts kind of like a lid and the pollution builds up.

In some of Utah’s more populated areas, inversion is becoming more and more of a problem. Utah County has been hit especially hard—last winter’s inversion levels were three times higher than the federal air quality standards.

Air Quality and Asthma

Poor air quality isn’t good for anybody and it can cause respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and colds. But those with asthma are particularly vulnerable.

For asthma suffers air pollutants can:

  • Reduce lung function by causing inflammation in the lining of the lungs.
  • Increase the chance of upper respiratory infections, which can trigger an asthma flare-up or worsen asthma symptoms.
  • Be a trigger for people who are allergic to some of the pollutants.

When the air quality is bad, we see an increase in:

  • Asthma related emergency room visits.
  • Asthma symptoms and medication use.
  • Asthma attacks.
  • Missed school days by those with respiratory diseases.

Children are particularly at risk because they spend so much time outside, have faster breathing rates, and their lungs are still developing.

What Parents Can Do

Let Your School Know: If your child has problems with asthma, cystic fibrosis, chronic lung disease, congenital heart disease, compromised immune systems, or other respiratory problems make sure your child’s school knows. Your school should be monitoring air quality and have a recess plan in place for days when the air quality is bad. Knowing about your child’s medical condition will allow them to take additional steps when needed.

Monitor Air Quality: Keep track of air quality levels and keep your children indoors on bad days. Visit airmonitoring.utah.gov/ to see current conditions, forecasts, and trends.

Stay Inside: When the air quality is bad, find fun places to play that are inside. Avoid areas with a lot of traffic and try to go outside earlier in the day when the air quality is better.

Air Filter: Buying an air filter for your home can increase your indoor air quality and help with symptoms.

Talk to Your Doctor: If your child is experiencing more symptoms, talk to your doctor to see if there are some steps you can be taking or adjustments in medication you can make to better manage the asthma.

Wash Your Hands: Encourage everybody in your family to wash their hands frequently to help reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections.

Reduce Emissions: Do your part to limit emissions (especially on low air quality days) by:

  • Keeping your car well tuned.
  • Limiting your driving and errands.
  • Looking into car pooling or using alternate forms of transportation.
  • Using non-gas powered yard tools.
  • Keeping your furnace or any wood burning appliances in good working condition.
  • Observe mandatory no burn days from November 1st to March 1st.

For more information:
Utah Division of Air Quality video on air quality and how to find daily air quality forecasts.

Ozone, Air Quality, and Asthma (kidshealth.org)

Winter Inversions: What Are They and What We Can All Do To Help (Salt Lake City government site)

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