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Air Quality and Your Health

screen568x568Air quality is an important factor in our daily health. Most of us enjoy very high air quality in our day to day lives, and we are fortunate that it is rare even in our largest urban centres during rush hour for air quality to be low enough to even be noticeable. However, during wildfire season, it’s not unusual for many of our communities to fall under an air quality advisory. Smoke and ash from fires can have a very noticeable impact on the air we breath and it doesn’t take long before it begins to impact our health.

Depending on the length of time you are exposed, your health status, your genetic background and the concentration of smoke and other pollutants, poor air quality can:

  • Irritate your lungs and airways
  • Make it harder to breathe
  • Worsen chronic respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, such as heart disease, chronic bronchitis, COPD, emphysema and asthma
  • Make your eyes, nose and mouth/throat feel dry, itchy or sore

The very young, the very old, and those with existing illnesses or respiratory conditions are most at risk for serious health implications from wildfire smoke, but that does not mean that the rest of us are off the hook. If you work outside or play outdoor sports, you need to be conscious of how the air quality is affecting you and may need to reschedule or cancel those activities altogether. It is not advisable to participate in strenuous activities outdoors when air quality is low. If you must work outside when the air quality is low, ask your employer what respiratory protective equipment you should be using.

What can I do to protect my health?

Refer to the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) regularly to check the air quality in your community before heading out.

When the AQHI reading rises or you experience symptoms like difficulty breathing, coughing or irritated eyes, you can decide whether you need to:

  • Follow a doctor’s advice to manage existing conditions such as heart or lung disease
  • Monitor possible symptoms
  • Reduce or reschedule outdoor physical activities

If you have an existing condition that leaves you susceptible to respiratory symptoms, such as asthma, it is important that you share that information with your employer, especially if you work outside or your job involves strenuous activity. If you feel that the air quality poses a hazard to your health, you must tell your employer and ask to be assigned work indoors or take the day off.

You can consult this interactive map to find out what the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is for your community at any given time so that you can take appropriate steps to protect your health.