Air pollution can affect your health. Older people may be more vulnerable to poor air quality because of weaker lungs, heart and defence systems, or undiagnosed respiratory or cardiovascular health conditions. Poor air quality makes it harder for people to breathe and can make the symptoms of existing health conditions worse. For example, in extreme cases, poor air quality can trigger heart attacks.
Seniors who are most at risk are those with existing respiratory illnesses (e.g. asthma, bronchitis) and cardiovascular (heart) conditions. People with diabetes are also more sensitive to poor air quality because they are more likely to have a cardiovascular disease.
Effects of Air Pollution
If you are in good health, air pollution may cause symptoms like:
- irritated eyes,
- increased mucus production in the nose or throat,
- coughing, and
- difficulty breathing, especially during exercise.
If you have a respiratory illness, air pollution can increase coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or phlegm.
If you have a heart condition or coronary artery disease, air pollution may cause swollen ankles and feet, fluttering in the chest, shortness of breath, light-headedness, or increased chest or arm pain.
You may not know that you have a lung or heart disease. Talk to your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms: chest pain or tightness, sweating, difficulty breathing without exertion, consistent cough or shortness of breath, fluttering in the chest, or feeling light-headed.
Protect Yourself with the Air Quality Health Index
The B.C. Air Quality Health Index (AQHI):
- Measures the air quality in relation to your health on a scale from 1 to 10. The higher the number, the greater the health risk. When air pollution is very high, the number will be reported as 10+
- Describes the level of the health risk (low, moderate, high, or very high)
- Provides health messages and advice on how to protect your health
- Is updated each hour, and predicts maximum values for today, tonight, and tomorrow.
The AQHI can help you decide when to adjust your activities to protect your health. For example, you may choose to limit the time you spend outdoors during increased levels of air pollution.
To find out about the air pollution concentrations in your area, consult:
- B.C. Air Quality Health Index from BC Air Quality
- Air Quality Health Index for British Columbia from Environment Canada.