Air Quality and Your Health

Whenever the air is hazy, or the smell of engine exhaust or smoke from a forest fire lingers, many Albertans wonder what effects poor air quality is having on their health.

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a tool that helps inform people about the present quality of outdoor air, and helps them decide how to manage their outdoor activities so they are not injured by air pollution.

Air pollution can irritate our lungs and eyes and make breathing difficult. People with respiratory conditions like asthma or lung disease are especially vulnerable when air quality is poor. In many respiratory diseases the airways can become inflamed and constricted, making it difficult to breathe; pollutants can exacerbate these symptoms and may even trigger an asthma attack, damaging lung tissue, and causing people to seek medical treatment.

Children and the elderly are also at greater risk. That’s because children’s lungs haven’t fully developed, while the lungs of some older people have weakened over time.

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Athletes and workers who spend a lot of time being physically active outdoors are also more susceptible to these health effects. Knowing these risks, it is important to check the AQHI when planning outdoor activities, and to consider rescheduling or reducing time spent outdoors as the health risk increases. Check the AQHI Canada App for the latest air quality information available for communities across Canada.

The AQHI

The AQHI divides health risks into four categories: low, moderate, high, and very high. Each category has a set of recommendations for how to plan outdoor activity as the air quality changes.

IndexLow health risk. Air quality is ideal and shouldn’t disrupt outdoor activity. These are the perfect conditions to go for a run or hop on your bike during the summer, or to lace up your skates in the winter.

Moderate health risk. The general population shouldn’t be affected, but those at risk should be aware of the conditions and be ready to reschedule and reduce their time outdoors if they start to experience symptoms.

High health risk. When air quality reaches this level, it’s time for those at risk to reduce and reschedule any strenuous outdoor activity. The general population should consider doing the same if symptoms appear.

Very high health risk. Those at risk should avoid any strenuous activity and stay inside as much as possible for their own comfort and safety. The general population should also be reducing or rescheduling their outdoor activities, especially if they experience irritation or coughing.

Disregarding the effects of poor air quality can adversely affect our health. The single best way to deal with air pollution is to limit exposure. The AQHI is a highly effective tool to use when planning outdoor activities.

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