Tour of Utah cyclists need not worry about air quality in Park City, expert says
August 11, 2018
The air in Park City has recently turned hazy by massive fires burning across the Western United States, in places as close as Tollgate Canyon and as far away as California.
Only eight months have passed in what's projected to be Utah's worst wildfire year on record, and Park City isn't a refuge from smoke the way it is from winter inversions. So, how does one decide when the air quality makes exercise dangerous, and what effect does poor air quality have on athletes like the bikers pedaling around the state in the Tour of Utah this week?
Dr. Kelly Woodward, medical director at the LiVe Well Center at the Park City Hospital, said air quality index charts, like the one provided by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality (available publicly at the department's website), are a reasonable guide for helping exercisers determine when to get a burn on and when to cool it.
Taking a peek outside doesn't hurt either.
"I think when people see a lot of smoke in the air they should take note," Woodward said, adding that people with respiratory and heart conditions should be ready to trim down their workouts, especially outdoors.
But while people with health issues will likely feel the effects of the poor air quality first, anyone can be affected.
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Coughing, feeling a tightness in the chest, experiencing an unusual shortness of breath and wheezing are common symptoms of overexposure to poor air quality, and a sign people should move indoors. The symptoms are usually caused by airborne particles that come to rest deep in the lungs, causing them to inflame.
Inflammation, Woodward said, is a common component of both asthma and heart disease, and causes fragility of arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks. Inflammation also thickens airways and tissues that facilitate the exchange of oxygen, which results in coughing and shortness of breath and causes a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
What about the cyclists?
As for the Tour of Utah riders, Woodward wasn't particularly concerned.
"We don't worry too much about the short-term effects having a permanent effect on their health," he said.
While they may feel the consequences of breathing in large amounts of particulate-laden air, in the form of a cough or sore throat, he said that the elite cyclists won't suffer any long-term effects.
"Many of these high performance athletes know very well if they already have a propensity to airway conditions like asthma, and they will have a plan on how to manage that," he said.
Even though the athletes are inhaling and exhaling great volumes of air, Woodward said they are at a much lower risk of injury than people who live with poor air quality daily.
"It doesn't have the long-term effects that we are more worried about from things like secondhand (tobacco) smoke, industrial smoke," he said of competing in the week-long race. "Generally, people can navigate the short-term things, and we hope people realize (the smoky Park City air) is a short-term (phenomenon), and we will get back to our pristine air."
Outside or inside?
Woodward said a clean, air conditioned building will usually have better air quality than the outdoors. But that doesn't mean the indoors always have cleaner air.
The Environmental Protection Agency hosts a section on its website devoted to "The Inside Story," which discusses "a growing body of research" suggesting that indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air quality. It lists indoor tobacco smoke, radon, poorly cleaned fabrics like carpets to bedding, pets, glues and solvents used in building materials, pesticides, asbestos and lead, among others, as detrimental to indoor air quality.
For more information on indoor air quality, go to http://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq.
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