Understanding Air Quality and Exposure Times

A Guide to the Air Quality Health Index

By Chaz G. T. Patto - June 2023.

In light of recent severe wildfires in North America blanketing many places in clouds of smoke with the AQHI ranging in some regions from 4 to 10+ we have decided to shed some light on how the Air Quality Health Index works.

Air quality plays a crucial role in our overall health and well-being. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is a valuable tool that provides information about the quality of the air we breathe and its potential impact on our health. In this article, we will explore the concept of air quality, the Air Quality Health Index, and the recommended exposure times associated with different air quality levels.

What is Air Quality?

Air quality refers to the composition of the air in terms of pollutants, such as particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. These pollutants can originate from various sources, including vehicle emissions, industrial activities, and natural factors like wildfires. Poor air quality can have detrimental effects on respiratory health, cardiovascular health, and overall quality of life.

Understanding the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI)

The AQHI Scale:

  • The AQHI scale ranges from 1 to 10+ and is divided into four categories: low risk, moderate risk, high risk, and very high risk.
  • Each category represents different levels of air pollution and associated health risks.
  • The higher the AQHI value, the poorer the air quality and the greater the potential health risks.

    Health Messages:

  • The AQHI provides health messages corresponding to each category to help individuals understand the potential health impacts and take appropriate actions.
  • Health messages may include recommendations for outdoor activities, preventive measures, and health advice for sensitive populations.

    Recommended Exposure Times

    Low Risk (1-3):

  • Air quality is generally good, and the risk to health is low.
  • There are no specific restrictions on outdoor activities or exposure time.
  • It is still advisable to be mindful of personal sensitivities and follow general guidelines for a healthy lifestyle.

    Moderate Risk (4-6):

  • Air quality is acceptable, but there may be a moderate health risk for certain individuals, such as those with respiratory conditions, seniors, or children.
  • Reduce prolonged or intense outdoor activities, especially if experiencing symptoms like coughing or shortness of breath.
  • Consider spending more time indoors or engaging in low-intensity activities.

    High Risk (7-10):

  • Air quality is poor, and there is an increased health risk for everyone.
  • Minimize outdoor activities, particularly during peak pollution hours.
  • Stay informed about air quality updates and follow health advice provided by local authorities.
  • Individuals with respiratory or cardiovascular conditions should take extra precautions and consult their healthcare providers.

    Very High Risk (10+):

  • Air quality is extremely poor, and there is a significant health risk for the general population.
  • Limit outdoor exposure as much as possible, especially for sensitive individuals.
  • Follow health advice provided by authorities, consider using air purifiers indoors, and monitor symptoms closely.

    The Air Quality Health Index is an essential tool for understanding the quality of the air we breathe and its potential impacts on our health. By staying informed about air quality levels and following the recommended exposure times, we can take proactive steps to protect our well-being. Remember to prioritize your health, make informed decisions, and consult local authorities or healthcare professionals for personalized advice in areas of poor air quality. Together, we can create a healthier environment and safeguard our respiratory health for generations to come.

    Exposure to smoke inhalation due to poor air quality can cause various symptoms, which can range from mild to severe depending on the duration and intensity of the exposure. Here is a list of symptoms commonly associated with smoke inhalation:

    Respiratory Symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing or noisy breathing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Sore throat or irritation of the throat
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose

    Eye and Nose Irritation:

  • Watery, itchy, or red eyes
  • Burning sensation in the eyes
  • Irritation or itching of the nose

    Sinus Symptoms:

  • Sinus congestion or pressure
  • Sinus headaches

    Skin and Mucous Membrane Irritation:

  • Skin redness or irritation
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Irritation of the mouth or lips


  • Throbbing or persistent headaches

    Fatigue and Weakness:

  • Feeling tired or lethargic
  • General weakness or malaise

    Nausea or Dizziness:

  • Feeling nauseous or experiencing an upset stomach
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

    Exacerbation of Pre-existing Respiratory Conditions:

  • Aggravation of asthma symptoms, such as increased wheezing or coughing
  • Worsening of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms

    It is important to note that individuals with pre-existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, children, older adults, and individuals with compromised immune systems may be more susceptible to the adverse effects of smoke inhalation.

    If you or someone you know experiences severe symptoms or has difficulty breathing after exposure to smoke, it is important to seek immediate medical attention. Additionally, following evacuation orders, staying indoors in a well-sealed environment, and using air purifiers or filtration systems can help reduce exposure to smoke and mitigate its impact on health.

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