The death in British Columbia of a 9-year-old boy whose asthma had been exacerbated by wildfire smoke tragically illustrates the risks of poor air quality for people with underlying respiratory and heart conditions, experts say.

But research has also shown that wildfire smoke is associated with more hospital visits for children and adults with lung conditions other than asthma, including viral infections, pneumonia or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but also heart attacks and strokes, says Dr. Anne Hicks of the University of Alberta’s Children’s Environmental Health Clinic.

Here are some tips to protect ourselves and our children against poor air quality.

Environment Canada publishes an “Air Quality Health Index” online, where citizens can check the level of pollution in their locality.

A rating of 1 to 3 corresponds to low risk, 4 to 6 to moderate risk, 7 to 10 to high risk and more than 10 to very high risk.

But many people with asthma or other chronic conditions – as well as infants, young children, pregnant women and the elderly – experience the effects of smoke and other air pollution long before very healthy people.

“Some of my asthma patients have exacerbations at a grade 5 (moderate risk) and we provide letters to their school asking them to have access to indoor activities if there is a risk of triggering asthma during outdoor recess,” Dr. Hicks said.

People should know what level of air pollution is affecting them and use the rating to modify their activities accordingly, she said.

“It’s really important to avoid exposure first,” says the doctor. But it gets harder and harder, of course, when it happens every day. »

Stay indoors with the windows closed as much as possible and use an air purifier, advises Jeffrey Brook, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health who specializes in air quality and pollution exposure.

A high-quality air purifier should have a HEPA (“high efficiency particulate air”) filter, or a filter with a MERV (“minimum efficiency ratio value”) rating of at least 13, recommends Professor Brook.

And if you can’t afford a high-quality air purifier, you can make one, Brook points out. Check YouTube for tutorials, he suggested: Basically, you’ll need a regular fan, MERV 13-rated furnace filters, tape, cardboard, and a little DIY.

If you’re inside a house with all the windows closed and no air conditioning, make sure you don’t trade one hazard for another, says Dr. Hicks.

“Heat exhaustion or heat stroke is also very serious and will affect children more than adults,” she pointed out. Additionally, the heat itself can trigger asthma attacks.

If it’s hot inside the house and the air quality outside is poor, consider going to a local “cooling point”, a mall or a library.

“Masks are a good damage mitigation tool when you have to be outdoors, such as walking to work or school,” Hicks recalls.

Surgical masks (“powder blue”) can filter up to 20% of smoke and other particles; well-fitting “N95s” can filter up to 80%. They come in children’s sizes and tie either over the ears or around the head, she said.

Although an “N95” offers the best protection against air pollution, the surgical mask is still worth wearing if it is more comfortable, Professor Brook points out.

Adults and children with asthma should always have both their “controller” medications and their “emergency” medications available – steroid pumps and bronchodilators.

No matter how well-controlled asthma is generally, if you’re worried about yourself or your child, “go to the hospital” if in serious doubt, recommends Dr. Hicks.