How to Better Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke this Summer

Every year, wildfires spread in various areas of Canada, leaving communities devastated and creating a noxious haze that can spread thousands of kilometres. The spread of smoke, dust and particulate matter can pose a significant threat to public health. After a record-breaking year in 2023, Canadians should expect another smoky summer and are encouraged to stay up-to-date on recommendations to stay healthy.

While wildfire pollutants endanger everyone, individuals with chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at heightened risk. For individuals with asthma, exposure to smoke can trigger wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness, often necessitating medical intervention. Similarly, individuals with COPD may experience worsened symptoms such as increased coughing, mucus production and difficulty breathing, potentially leading to respiratory infections and hospitalization. Beyond immediate discomfort, prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke can inflict lasting damage by reducing lung function and increasing the risk for lung cancer. Therefore, to reduce the negative impacts on respiratory health, prevention is important!

General recommendations:

  • Remain indoors, and keep doors and windows shut as much as possible.
  • Use a portable air purifier with HEPA filter or keep air conditioning on the recirculation setting.
  • If keeping the air clean inside your home is not possible, be aware of locations in your community with suitably clean air, such as libraries, shopping malls, community centres, etc.
  • Drink plenty of water. Staying well hydrated helps the kidneys and liver to remove toxins and reduce systemic inflammation.
  • Consider wearing a protective mask that is closely fitted around the face.
  • Use the following online tools to find information on air quality near you: WeatherCAN app, Air Quality Health Index and Environment Canada Alerts.

Recommendations for people with lung disease:

  • Keep your lung disease well-managed and under good control.
  • Follow your action plan. If you don’t have a written action plan, see your primary care provider or book an appointment with a Certified Respiratory Educator.
  • Keep rescue medications with you at all times and use as symptoms arise.
  • Watch for symptoms such as increased wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. If these symptoms persist, seek immediate medical attention.