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This article was published 20/7/2021 (310 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Stepping outside to grab the mail or do a grocery run under the smoke blanketing Winnipeg likely won’t make you ill, but longer exposure can cause damage for some, according to experts.
While people without underlying respiratory conditions might get a headache, sore throat or stuffy nose after spending too long under the smoky skies Winnipeg has had to deal with recently, the situation gets more serious if a person has pre-existing concerns, Graham Werstiuk, a respiratory therapy instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology said Tuesday.
"People with respiratory diseases like asthma (and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are actually at risk of getting admitted to hospital. It can cause their lungs to tighten up or cause inflammation," he said.
"Something that people don’t think about, is even people with cardiovascular diseases — we know, even from Canadian research, that there’s a small, significant increase in the number of strokes and heart attacks that get admitted during periods of high air pollution."
General face coverings used to protect against contracting COVID-19 make for a poor possible air filter, as the surgical masks are meant specifically to prevent the inhalation of droplets, not the fine matter smoke is made of.
"When you get to this really fine, micrometre-size particular matter that’s in the air right now, the only thing that might have some effect are the N95-style masks," Werstiuk said.
Even N95s distributed to the general public likely won’t be fully effective as they need to be properly fitted to keep out such small particles.
Some outdoor activities in Winnipeg have been postponed or cancelled due to the poor air quality, including a Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice Tuesday. Werstiuk said outdoor activities for children would likely have to be halted until the smoke clears, as the pollution can affect youth quicker and more strongly.
"They’re smaller, they breathe faster, so they’re actually taking more of it in for their body weight," he said. "That’s a good rationale to close off kid’s activities during these days."
While it might seem tempting to take your day outdoors in the summer whenever you can, hold off until skies are clearer, Werstiuk suggested.
"The bottom line is that your lungs are supposed to take in clean air," he said.
"You can be outside for short periods of time, but what most health experts recommend is try to avoid any vigorous activity during these periods, maybe save the long run for another day, try and do exercise indoors where the air is hopefully a little cleaner."
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.