Background Information

On average, we breathe in 21,000 times a day. That’s about 14,400 litres of inhaled air each day for a moderately active adult. Air pollution affects thousands of Canadians annually and can cause lost productivity, pain, suffering, and exacerbations of respiratory diseases leading to increased respiratory infections and hospitalization.

Clean air and a healthy environment are therefore of vital importance when it comes to our health. It is estimated that over 5,000 deaths in Canada arise every year due to air pollution. Individuals who are at greatest risk are young children, the elderly and those who have existing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

Air pollution is a key trigger of asthma and associated allergies. Asthma  Canada is committed to helping adults and children with asthma and respiratory allergies to breathe easier and recognizes the vital importance of clean air and a healthy environment. Although it is not conclusive that air pollution causes asthma, evidence suggests that air pollution is a key trigger for its exacerbation. Extensive studies have shown that increases in air pollution result in a rapid increase in the number of hospitalization due to asthma.

Due to this growing concern, the Government of Canada and its partners have launched a national Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to help you protect your health against the harmful effects of air pollution.

About the AQHI

The AQHI is a web-based scale which describes a local reading of air quality as it relates to your health. The AQHI is calculated daily based on the levels of a combination of air pollutants in the air which are known to be harmful to your health. The AQHI reading describes a number between 1 and 10+. The greater the number, the higher the level of air pollution, and the greater the associated health risk. Alongside the AQHI are Health Messages which help explain the index, and provide recommendations on how to adjust your outdoor activity level based on the current reading specific to your individual health risk to air pollution.

The AQHI presents a new, national, health-based approach to communicating air pollution. The AQHI is available across Canada in select cities. The AQHI will serve to promote better health outcomes for individuals by encouraging positive lifestyle choices based on current AQHI readings.

Having a Bad Air Day? Don’t Let It Slow You Down

The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is an online tool that helps those with asthma identify when the air quality is at a safe level to participate in outdoor activities. High AQHI readings (7-10) can cause increased asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and the need for increased inhaler use. Plan your outdoor activities by checking the AQHI to minimize health risks – it’s as easy as checking the weather!

Learn more about the importance of the AQHI for people with asthma by downloading these new resources:

Air Quality Health Index & Asthma

Download: Postcard  [English]  / Factsheet | Postcard [French]

If you find your asthma symptoms become worse on these days when their is poor air quality, try to:

  • Reduce the amount of time you spend outside when air-pollution is high.
  • Exercise indoors if you usually exercise outdoors.
  • Turn on the air conditioner in your home and car and keep your windows closed.
  • Take your controller medication as prescribed and carry your reliever medication with you wherever you go, especially on days with poor air quality.
  • Follow your Asthma Action Plan

AQHI Information for Runners: 

As an athlete, you face a particular challenge. During exercise, you breathe deeper and faster, which leads to more air pollution entering your lungs. This can trigger asthma symptoms. You can learn more about exercise and asthma here.

Asthma Triggers

Poor Air Quality is only one type of asthma trigger. Learn about the other types of asthma triggers that can cause asthma symptoms so you can better manage your asthma.

Asthma & Allergy HelpLine

Do you have questions about asthma? Contact our free helpline service to be connected with a Certified Respiratory Educator who can provide you with personalized support.