Scout Environmental is proudly partnered with PharmaChoice and Running Room to help spread awareness of the Air Quality Health Index, or AQHI: a free and accessible way to assess the air quality in your region. Now in its fifth year, and with vital support from Health Canada, the Air Health Check campaign engages and informs Canadians of the causes and symptoms of poor air quality and equips them with strategies we can all take to protect our health — and that of our loved ones.
What Is the Air Quality Health Index?
The Air Quality Health Index helps people understand how poor air quality can affect their personal health. It’s free to access, always updating, and as easy to check as the weather — making it the perfect tool to help you stay healthy while still enjoying the outdoors and an active lifestyle.
Not all forms of air pollution are visible to the naked eye, like smoke or smog. Certain gases and particles — including ground level ozone, fine particulate matter, and nitrogen dioxide — are not only invisible, but also significant contributors to cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Similarly, both cities and rural areas can experience periods of poor air quality due to drifting air currents and localized events.
Thankfully, the AQHI’s colour-coded, low-to-high scale gives a clear indication of outdoor air quality levels, with higher numbers representing greater risks. Even when you can’t see air pollution, the AQHI tells you it’s present. This in turn allows you to adapt your behaviour depending on your susceptibility and symptoms.
Who Is Most at Risk of Air Pollution?
People who are otherwise healthy can still experience health effects, and sometimes at mild or medium levels of air pollution. But certain groups of people are more vulnerable and my feel the effects of poor air quality more dramatically.
Children. Kids tend to inhale more oxygen than adults, have lower defensive systems, and higher rates of metabolism. This makes them more susceptible to air pollution.
Seniors. Elderly people sometimes have undiagnosed health conditions; their lungs and defence systems are often weaker than younger people’s. This means they’re frequently more sensitive to poor air quality.
People with Respiratory Conditions. Air pollution can have a major effect on people with chronic bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, and lung cancer.
People with Cardiovascular Conditions. If you have angina, congestive heart failure, or heart rhythm problems — or if you’ve previously had a heart attack — you may be vulnerable.
People with Diabetes. Since diabetic people are more likely to have cardiovascular disease, poor air quality can cause more severe symptoms.
People Who Work and Exercise Outdoors. Any strenuous activity outdoors means breathing more heavily and rapidly. If you work or play outside for extended periods, you’re more at-risk.
What Are the Symptoms of Air Pollution?
The most common symptoms to exposure to poor air quality include:
- Irritation of the throat, nose, and eyes.
- Trouble breathing.
If you experience these symptoms after being outdoors, check the AQHI. See what AQHI levels coincide with which symptoms, and at which level of severity. Knowing the connection between air pollution and your personal health will help you react accordingly whenever the AQHI reaches a numeric level.
What Can You Do to Protect Your Health?
There are several things you can do to protect your health, and that of your loved ones.
Stick to the Shade Away from Traffic. Avoid vehicle emissions, especially at rush hour, and avoid direct sunlight when it’s especially hot.
Head Outside When It’s Cooler. Extreme heat exacerbates poor air quality conditions, and can make your symptoms particularly intense. If possible, plan your outdoor activities for cooler periods.
Move It Indoors. If you are able, stay indoors whenever the AQHI reaches a level of concern. Indoor air can be improved using an indoor air purifier with a HEPA filter.
Stay Hydrated and Slow It Down. Pace yourself and drink more water during periods with poor air quality. Staying hydrated is one important way to fend off symptoms and feel better.
Have a Talk with Your Doctor. If you are concerned about your respiratory and cardiovascular health, and you notice aggravating symptoms when air pollution levels are high, speak to a healthcare professional (such as your doctor or pharmacist).
Listen to Your Body. Pay attention to how your body reacts in extreme heat and periods of poor air quality. Don’t overdo it and learn to manage your symptoms with mindful attention to how you feel.
How Do I Access the Air Quality Health Index?
You have several options to access the Air Quality Health Index — it’s available online as well as a downloadable app for all devices. Here’s how to find it:
- Get the AQHI Canada app for Android here.
- Get the AQHI Canada app for iPhone and iPad here.
- Check your local AQHI conditions online at www.AirHealth.ca.
- Check your local forecast and AQHI conditions online at www.TheWeatherNetwork.com.
- Get the WeatherCAN app.
For more information on the Air Health Check campaign, as well as additional resources, articles, and videos on the AQHI, head to www.AirHealthCheck.ca. To speak to us directly about the program, get in touch with Scout Environmental today.