Air Quality in Ontario: Keeping Your Kids Safe

​Dr. Victoria Pila MD FRCP(C)

We are currently under a Special Air Quality Statement due to smoke from forest fires in other areas of the province and neighbouring regions. When the air quality is poor, it can be harmful to our health, and children (as well as pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions) are particularly at risk for more severe outcomes.

What does this mean for our children?

Children, especially infants and toddlers, are more susceptible to the harmful effects of smoke and air pollution, as their respiratory and immune systems are still developing. Children breathe faster than adults, which causes them to breath in high levels of pollution relative to their weight, and they are less able to communicate if they are starting to feel unwell. Children with asthma, other lung conditions, heart conditions, and other chronic health conditions are especially at risk.

What symptoms should we look out for?

Symptoms of poor air quality can include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, a scratchy throat, eye and nose irritation, headaches, dizziness and fatigue. 

How do we know when it is safe to be outdoors?

The government continues to update the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) for each region, which is a scale from 1-10, indicating the health risks associated with the levels of pollution in the air.

Air Quality in Ontario: Keeping Your Kids Safe

When the AQHI is high, it means that there are high levels of pollution in the air and our outdoor activities (especially those involving sports, exercise or outdoor work) should be limited. The table below is an excellent source to guide your outdoor activities:

Air Quality in Ontario: Keeping Your Kids Safe

How can we protect our children?

  • Stay informed, and continue to check the Air Quality Health Index. You can find up to date information on
  • Stay indoors as much as possible when the AQHI is high, and keep all windows and doors closed. Avoid all sports and outdoor exercise. 
  • Ensure that your child’s asthma and other chronic health conditions are well-managed, and that you have an adequate supply of any puffers or chronic medications that have been prescribed.
  • Seek medical treatment should your child appear unwell or exhibit any persistent coughing, trouble breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain/tightness, dizziness, lightheadedness or fussiness/irritability that do not improve when you move indoors.
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