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Air quality: Find out your risk level

Thursday, July 4, 2013, 11:28 AM -

The most common categories of people at increased risk 

People with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions 

People who have existing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema or lung cancer, and those with existing cardiovascular conditions such as angina, previous heart attack, congestive heart failure or heart rhythm problems (arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat) are sensitive to air pollution. People with diabetes are also more sensitive because they are more likely to have cardiovascular disease. Air pollution makes it even harder for people to breathe, can make existing lung or heart-related symptoms worse. For example, it can trigger heart attacks. 

Young children 

Young children are included in the sensitive groups because on a per-body-weight basis they tend to inhale relatively more air than adults. Their elevated metabolic rate and young defence systems make them more susceptible to air pollution. 

The elderly 

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. 

Those active outdoors 

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


On days when air pollution levels are significantly elevated, even people not in the above groups may notice symptoms. 

How can you tell if you may be sensitive to air pollution?

Exposure to air pollutants can cause a range of symptoms. People with lung or heart disease may experience increased frequency and/or severity of symptoms, and increased medication requirements.

People who are otherwise healthy may have the following symptoms:

  • irritated eyes, 
  • increased mucus production in the nose or throat, 
  • coughing, 
  • difficulty breathing especially during exercise. 

Some people may be unaware that they have lung or heart disease. Consult your doctor if you have 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.

People with existing illnesses may have the following specific symptoms:

  • People with asthma or COPD may notice an increase in cough, wheezing, shortness of breath or phlegm. 
  • People with heart failure may experience increased shortness of breath or swelling in the ankles and feet. 
  • People with heart rhythm problems may notice increased fluttering in the chest and feeling light-headed. 
  • People with angina or coronary artery disease may have an increase in chest or arm pain. 

Estimating Your Own Sensitivity

Note: You should always consult your doctor concerning medical issues. People who have existing respiratory or cardiovascular illness should follow their doctor's usual advice on management of their condition. Use of the following guide is an additional tool that can be used to protect your health.

Use your own experience and symptoms as a guide.

How do you usually feel when there is an increase in air pollution? If you cannot answer this question, visit this Web site regularly and take note of how you feel on days with different levels of air pollution.

1. Take into account your age, your health status, and your level of outdoor activity. If you are in the following groups, your sensitivity to air pollution is likely to be greater:

  • Young, active children 
  • Elderly individuals 
  • People having existing respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses such as asthma,chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) which may includechronic bronchitis and emphysema, or people with certain heart arrhythmias (rhythm problems or irregular heartbeat), congestive heart failure, angina or previous heart attack 
  • People undertaking strenuous exertion outdoors, for example during sports or strenuous work. 

2. By considering these factors you can assess whether you are: 

  • Very sensitive: Severe and frequent symptoms, possibly even after low exposures to pollution 
  • Moderately sensitive: Between very and mildly sensitive 
  • Mildly sensitive: Mild and infrequent symptoms, only after high exposures to pollution. 

Important! This is intended only as a self-help guide. Be sure to consult your doctor if you are experiencing moderate to severe symptoms.

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