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Spotlight on Asthma: June 2017


The Air Quality Health Index

Air Quality Health Index categories, values, and associated colors

As we move into the hot and hazy days of summer, air pollution becomes a concern for everyone who breathes. Air quality is of even more importance for those living with lung disease and those who work or exercise outdoors. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is an important tool that can help guide you in reducing your risks from the effects of air pollution. Read More

Extreme heat alert mapExtreme Heat Alerts

The summer heat and humidity may not only make it uncomfortable—it can also be dangerous to your breathing and health. Extreme heat can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or even death. Read More

Photo of mold caused by floodingFlooding & Mould

This spring has seen record rainfall in Ontario and other parts of Canada, causing flooding in some areas. Along with the many issues caused by flooding, mould can easily grow if items are not dried out quickly and this can affect your breathing. Read More

Photo of a thunderstormThunderstorms & Asthma

Thunderstorms have been found on rare occasion to be a trigger for asthma attacks. They can sometimes create conditions that lead to a large increase in outdoor asthma and allergy triggers. Read More

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The Air Quality Health Index

As we move into the hot and hazy days of summer, air pollution becomes a concern for everyone who breathes. Air quality is of even more importance for those living with lung disease and those who work or exercise outdoors. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is an important tool that can help guide you in reducing your risks from the effects of air pollution. It’s now available throughout Ontario, providing current and forecast air quality readings and guidance on health risks.

The AQHI measures these three important pollutants:

  1. Ozone (O3)
  2. Particulate matter 2.5 microns (PM2.5) in diameter and less (1 micron is 1/1000 of a mm)
  3. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)

The AQHI scale goes from 1 to 10+. The lower the number, the lower the health risk from outdoor air pollution. The scale below shows the AQHI values and their associated colours, and the categories from “low risk” to “very high risk”.

Air Quality Health Index categories, values, and associated colors

Use the chart below for steps to take based on the AQHI level and whether or not you are in the “at risk population.”

Air quality health index messages

Follow these tips to protect your lungs and breathing from air pollution:

  • Check the current and forecast maximums in your community at www.airqualityontario.com  or www.airhealth.ca or at other media such as television, newspaper or radio
  • Follow the AQHI health messages based on whether or not you are in the “at risk population”
  • Avoid areas that have a higher pollution level, such as near major road
  • Exercise indoors if the AQHI level is too high
  • Ask your health-care provider about protecting your lungs when air quality is poor
  • Sign up for air quality alerts at www.airqualityontario.com/alerts/signup.php or hear recorded messages at 1-800-387-7768 or 416-246-0411 (local in Toronto).

The AQHI is a useful tool that helps guide you in reducing your risks from the effects of air pollution. Monitor the AQHI in your community. Reduce your risks and stay active.

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Extreme Heat Alerts

The summer heat and humidity may not only make it uncomfortable—it can also be dangerous to your breathing and health. Extreme heat can cause heat exhaustion, heat stroke, or even death. If you have a health condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may be more affected by the heat and humidity. Children, elderly and outdoor workers are also at higher risk. Plus as the temperature rises, air pollution levels also tend to rise.

Extreme heat alert map

Follow these five steps from Health Canada to protect your breathing during heat alerts:

  1. Prepare for the heat
  2. Pay close attention to how you – and those around you – feel
  3. Stay hydrated
  4. Stay cool
  5. Avoid exposure to extreme heat when outdoors

Take precautions to prevent a flare-up of your lung condition during heat alerts. If you notice changes in your symptoms, follow the action plan provided by your health-care provider. If you don’t have an action plan, ask your health-care provider for one.

Find more information through Health Canada at Extreme heat – heat waves. During heat warnings, check with your local public health department for any cooling centres. In Toronto, you can find them at Air Conditioned Public Places & Cooling Centres.

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Flooding & Mould

This spring has seen record rainfall in Ontario and other parts of Canada, causing flooding in some areas. In fact, this spring Lake Ontario had the highest water levels ever recorded. Along with the many issues caused by flooding, mould can easily grow if items are not dried out quickly and this can affect your breathing.

Flooded neighborhood

Mould can grow on most surfaces including:

  • Paper/wood: drywall, cardboard, building materials
  • Damp materials: window sills, walls, doors, floors, tiles, ceilings, insulation
  • Textiles/fabrics: clothing, carpeting, furniture, drapes

Photo of mold caused by flooding

Mould can cause long-term damage to your home. Mould also releases spores and toxins into the air that can cause:

  • Lung symptoms:
    • wheezing
    • coughing
    • increased mucus or phlegm (sputum)
    • shortness of breath
    • chest tightness
  • Headache, fatigue
  • Asthma flare-up
  • Allergic rhinitis (inflamed lining in the nose)
  • Sinusitis (inflamed sinuses)
  • Eye and skin irritation
  • Lung infections and lung inflammation disorders

After a flood, it is very important to remove the water and humidity and dry out the items as quickly as possible. There is a much higher chance that mould will grow on items that have been wet for more than 48 hours. For steps on cleaning up after a flood and preventing mould, see the resources below.

Where can I find out more?

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Thunderstorms & Asthma

Thunderstorms have been found on rare occasion to be a trigger for asthma attacks. They can sometimes create conditions that lead to a large increase in outdoor asthma and allergy triggers. Thunderstorms have caused asthma attacks in both people diagnosed with asthma and those who are allergic to pollen but have never been diagnosed with asthma.

How can thunderstorms affect you?

Photo of a thunderstormThunderstorms have been found to cause increases in:

  • asthma symptoms
  • visits to the doctor
  • visits to the emergency department

In November 2016, thunderstorms caused a large increase in asthma attacks in Melbourne, Australia. Thousands of people had difficulty breathing. Emergency departments in Melbourne saw about three times the normal number of patients. Nine people died from asthma.

How does it happen?

Close up of pollenPollen grains are common allergens that can trigger asthma and allergy symptoms. With the rain or increased humidity during a thunderstorm, the pollen grains get wet and burst. When they burst, each pollen grain releases hundreds of tiny particles. The increased wind during a thunderstorm picks up this vast number of particles and keeps them airborne where they are inhaled.

The particles are so small that they end up deep inside your lungs where they can cause an allergic reaction. The high winds may also pick up mould spores, another common allergen.

It is very rare that thunderstorms cause this large of an increase in asthma and allergy symptoms. However, it’s a good idea to pay more attention to your breathing when the next thunderstorm rolls through.

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