Canadian Lung Association Blog

Becoming Air Aware – How Canada’s AQHI Can Help You

The Air Quality Health Index or “AQHI” is a scale designed to help you understand what the air quality around you means to your health. It’s a health protection tool designed to help you make decisions to protect your health by limiting short-term exposure to air pollution and adjusting your activity levels during increased levels of air pollution – and it’s particularly important for those whose health is at most risk from air pollution.

The AQHI is designed to give you this information along with some suggestions on how you might adjust your activity levels depending on your individual health risk from air pollution.

How is air quality measured from a health perspective?

The AQHI is calculated based on the relative risks of a combination of common air pollutants that is known to harm human health.  These pollutants are: ozone (O3) at ground level, particulate matter (PM2.5/PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

Then the AQHI is measured on a scale ranging from 1-10+. The AQHI index values are grouped into health risk categories as shown below. These categories help you to easily and quickly identify your level of risk.

Becoming air aware AQHI graphic

Who is most at risk during ‘bad air’ days?

People who have existing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and those with existing cardiovascular conditions such as angina, a previous heart attack, congestive heart failure or heart rhythm problems (arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat). People with diabetes are also more sensitive because they are more likely to have cardiovascular disease.

Young children are included in the sensitive groups because on a per-body-weight basis they tend to inhale relatively more air than adults.  And the elderly also are more likely to be affected by air pollution, due to generally weaker lungs, heart and defence systems, or undiagnosed respiratory or cardiovascular health conditions.

Finally, people participating in sports or strenuous work outdoors breathe more deeply and rapidly allowing more air pollution to enter the lungs.

To find out how healthy the air is in British Columbia today, click here.

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Carlynn Ferguson-King

Carlynn is on the BC Lung Association Communications Team.

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Posted in Air Quality, Lung Health

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