Information and resources on staying healthy during wildfire smoke events.

B.C. wildfires are common during the summer months resulting in poorer quality air. While air quality impacts us all, people with chronic conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes, as well as pregnant women, infants, young children and the elderly, are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of wildfire smoke and need to take extra care. Wildfires and smoke can become more extreme as the summer climate changes with some smoke episodes lasting for weeks or onward. This can result in longer lasting health effects that are not fully understood. Reducing exposure to wildfire smoke is the best way to protect your health and those around you.

Seek medical attention immediately if someone is experiencing symptoms of shortness of breath, severe cough, dizziness, chest pain or heart palpitations due to smoky conditions.

When conditions are smoky people who are exposed to the novel coronavirus may develop COVID-19 and some cases of COVID-19 may become more severe. Those who are vulnerable or who work with vulnerable populations can find advice on minimizing risk through BCCDC resources.

Steps to protect others during wildfire events or general air quality advisories:

  • Know your risk. Exposure is particularly a concern for infants, the elderly and those who have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, and lung or heart disease. It’s important for these vulnerable people to stay in air conditioned spaces, or facilities with cooler filtered air like an arena or public library.
  • Use common sense regarding outdoor physical activity – if your breathing becomes difficult or uncomfortable, stop or reduce the activity.
  • Reduce indoor pollution sources by not smoking or burning materials.
  • Use commercially available high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters which can improve indoor air quality near the device. If you do not have access to these, seek out community spaces with cool air, such as libraries, community centres or shopping malls.
  • Activate your asthma or personal care plan if you have asthma or other chronic illnesses. If you do not have an asthma or personal care plan for air quality events, talk to your care provider.
  • Know where to find information. The air quality impacts of wildfire smoke can change fast. Know how to stay updated on conditions in your area. Smartphone apps such as the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) in Canada and SmokeSense in the United States can send alerts when air quality starts to deteriorate.
  • Stay cool and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Pay attention to local air quality reports. Air quality may be poor even though smoke may not be visible.
  • Reduce outdoor pollution sources by taking transit, carpooling and minimizing the use of diesel powered equipment.
  • Start preparing for next season now. The best way to protect yourself from smoke is to plan well before the smoke arrives.

Health effects of wildfire smoke:

  • Mild respiratory symptoms include a sore throat and shortness of breath. Anyone experiencing difficulty in breathing, chest pain or discomfort, or a sudden cough or irritated airways, should seek medical attention.

Resources for staying healthy during an air quality advisory: