Air Quality and Health
Air quality is used to describe pollutants in outdoor air. In urban areas, sources of pollution include vehicles (cars and trucks), industry, commercial and even residential buildings. Because pollutants travel through the air, pollution can affect air quality at great distances from where the pollution was originally released. Consequently, even rural areas are affected by smog.
Poor air quality is associated with premature deaths, and can negatively impact pre-existing health conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, heart disease and diabetes, resulting in increased hospitalizations and visits to the emergency room or the doctor’s office. Seniors, children, and pregnant women are especially at risk of experiencing adverse effects of exposure to air pollution. Heart and lung conditions can become worse with poor air quality. Air pollution can also irritate the eyes, nose and throat and can cause wheezing, coughing and breathing difficulties.
Health risks may also increase during poor air quality days for those who play sports or exercise outdoors, or others active outside (e.g., gardeners). When you exercise, you breathe harder than normal, bringing dirty air deeper into your lungs. You also breathe mostly through your mouth, bypassing the filtering action of the nose. In addition to the above noted symptoms, people who are active outdoors during poor air quality days may have difficulty performing at their best because the lungs cannot work at full capacity.
Who is at risk?
Poor air quality affects everyone’s health. Some people are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution than others. Poor air quality is especially harmful to:
- People with lung diseases and heart conditions
- People with asthma, bronchitis, or other lung conditions
- Children and pregnant women
Individuals from these high-risk groups can experience health effects at lower levels of pollution.
Protect yourself on a poor air quality day
There are many things you can do to protect yourself while enjoying the outdoors:
- Listen to your body and reduce your activity level if you experience symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and/or difficulty breathing.
- Check the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change’s AQHI Forecasts & Observations website to find out the air quality forecast for the City of Hamilton.
- Plan your day to limit impact of activities that increase smog. For example, group errands/meetings together and refuel your vehicle only during non-sunlight hours. Consider ways to modify your day (e.g., car pool, take transit, work from home).
- Drink plenty of water and take lots of rest breaks preferably in the shade or in an air-conditioned area.
- Contact your physician or go to your nearest walk-in clinic or hospital emergency department if you have further concerns about your health condition.
For more information on how to protect your health visit: www.hamilton.ca/airhealth