August 18, 2023

How does air quality affect my health?

By James Kisielew

You may think only seniors or high-risk individuals need to be concerned about air quality. But air pollution affects everyone. How does it impact your health? And what can you do about it?

Dealing with air pollution is a part of everyday life in cities like Santiago, Chile and Delhi, India. But for those in Canada, air quality concerns may feel like something new. Here’s what you need to know.

Air pollution affects many Canadians every day, indoors and out. Health Canada estimates that every year, air pollution in Canada is linked to:

  • 35-million acute respiratory symptom days,
  • 2.7-million asthma symptom days, and
  • 15,300 premature deaths.

Even a young, healthy adult can experience symptoms when exposed to air pollution. Irritated eyes, difficulty breathing, and coughing are common symptoms. People with existing illnesses may even experience other symptoms such as chest pains or swollen feet. Those who are at a higher chance of health issues due to air pollution include:

  • infants, young children, and seniors,
  • pregnant people,
  • those who work or play sports outdoors, and
  • people with existing health conditions.

What is the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI)?

The Canadian government measures air quality using the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI). It helps you understand the effects of air quality on your health.

The AQHI allows you to quickly check the risk level in your area. It may even help you plan your day.

The AQHI uses a scale from 1 to 10+. So, If the scale’s between one to five, you can confidently go on your bike ride. But if it’s at an 8 or 9, you may want to rethink and plan something indoors.

Check out the air quality of your city here.

How do wildfires affect air quality?

The skies are hazy. The sun is a deep orange. This may be a beautiful sight in the morning or at dusk. But in the middle of the afternoon? That can be concerning.

Recently, the cause is most likely wildfires. They are a major contributor to air pollution.

Wildfires affect communities across Canada. And it might get worse. Canada is getting warmer faster than other countries. With that comes more wildfires that last longer.

They are difficult to predict and can affect cities thousands of miles away. Wildfire season is from late April to early October. If you want to stay aware and prepare for a smoke event, there are forecasts available. Check out the government’s wildfire smoke forecast maps here.

How can I help improve air quality?

We can all help improve air quality in our communities. Here are three simple actions you can take to reduce air pollution:

How do I protect myself from bad air quality?

The best way to avoid health risks from air pollution is to reduce exposure. Check the Air Quality Health Index near you to see if it’s safe to be outdoors. Especially during wildfire season and heat waves.

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself:

  • stay in a room that’s cool and is well-ventilated,
  • use air conditioning or a fan,
  • use a portable air purifier,
  • keep your windows closed,
  • keep your curtains and blinds closed,
  • wear a mask outside,
  • avoid strenuous activity, and
  • drink plenty of water.

If you are in an area that experiences severe smoke events and pollution, don’t forget about your mental health. Staying inside for long periods of time can often lead to stress and anxiety. If you have trouble coping with symptoms, you may want to seek help from a health care provider.

Need help managing your stress?

Use the Lumino Health search tool to find health care professionals in your area.

Try it now

This article is meant to provide general information only. It’s not professional medical advice, or a substitute for that advice.

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