As wildfires continue to burn in provinces across Canada, vulnerable populations in particular are at a higher risk of health problems when exposed to wildfire smoke. According to the Government of Canada’s publication Wildfire smoke 101: Wildfire smoke and your health the following people could be adversely affected:
- pregnant people
- infants and young children
- people who work outdoors
- people involved in strenuous outdoor exercise
- people with an existing illness or chronic health conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and lung or heart conditions
For our lung health community, this would include individuals living with lung cancer, asthma, COPD, or an infectious respiratory disease.
According to the Government of Canada, “there is no evidence of a safe level of exposure for most of these pollutants. This means that smoke can impact your health even at very low levels. As smoke levels increase, your health risks increase. Air quality may be decreased even if you can’t see or smell smoke.”
Use the Air Quality Health Index here to find out more about the air quality in your city or province. You can also refer to the National Wildland Fire Situation Report here from Natural Resources Canada.
If you live in an area that is being impacted by wildfires, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of smoke exposure so that you can seek medical attention, if needed.
Milder and more common symptoms, which typically do not require medical intervention, include:
- a mild cough
- a runny nose
- production of phlegm
- eye, nose and throat irritation
More serious symptoms include:
- chest pains
- severe cough
- shortness of breath
- wheezing (including asthma attacks)
- heart palpitations (irregular heart beat)
If you are experiencing any of the above, it is important to seek medical attention either through your health care provider or your local emergency room.
For individuals with asthma, it’s critically important to continue to manage your asthma and avoid triggers when air quality is being impacted by wildfire smoke. This includes being aware of when your asthma symptoms are getting worse, using inhalers properly and as prescribed, and knowing what to do in case of an emergency. The Lung Health Foundation’s Asthma Action Plan can help with the above and is available here.
What can you do to protect your lung health?
According to our Certified Respiratory Educators that operate the Lung Health Line, the following will help you protect your lung health when the air quality in your area is being impacted:
- Reduce outdoor activity when pollution levels are higher. Avoid intense activity if possible. Stay in a cool, clean environment during periods of poor air quality.
- Reduce sources of indoor air pollution such as smoking/vaping
- When wildfire smoke levels are high, if possible, leave the area and go to a location with cleaner air
- A portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter can reduce some indoor air pollution
- A properly fitted respirator (face mask) such as an N95 mask may help reduce the amount of smoke particles that you inhale
- Reduce the amount of polluted air from entering your home by keeping your windows and doors closed and making sure they are sealed well
- Keep your car windows closed and set the ventilation system to recirculate the air
Our Certified Respiratory Educators are available to support you in protecting your lung health and managing your lung disease effectively. Connect with a Certified Respiratory Educator, by phone at 1-888-344-5864, email at email@example.com or chat with us online at www.lunghealth.ca.