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UW-Madison Doctor: Air Pollution Hits Young People Hard

March 29, 2010

MADISON, Wisc. - March came in like a lion, as far as air quality in Wisconsin is concerned. Already this month, the Department of Natural Resources has issued nine air quality notifications for various parts of the state.

Everyone who breathes the air is affected, but bad air hits young people hard, according to Dr. Theresa Guilbert, a UW-Health Pediatric Pulmonologist, who practices at American Family Children's Hospital.

"If they're doing activities that cause them to take in more air or breathe more deeply, such as playing on a playground, running, biking, things like that, if they're coughing more, becoming more short of breath. Some of my patients with asthma actually start wheezing."

Some of her young patients wear masks when they go outside on bad air days. Dr. Guilbert says the warnings about bad air are important to a lot of people, young and old, and she tells her patients to stay alert for warnings about bad air.

The Environmental Protection Agency is also considering stronger air quality standards for ozone, which is a problem in summertime in Wisconsin, and will make a final decision in August. Dr. Guilbert says high levels of ozone are bad for everyone's lungs, but particle matter in the air is an issue, too. Larger airborne particles are unhealthy, but Dr. Guilbert says small particles can cause real problems.

"It's really easy to inhale fine particles deeply into the lungs, and they can actually be absorbed by your blood stream or embedded in your body for long periods of time."

Dr. Guilbert says everyone should pay attention when bad air alerts are issued, should take precautions as necessary to protect their lungs, and follow the advice of health officials about limiting activities that contribute to air pollution.

For more information, visit the American Lung Association of Wisconsin at

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI