Mixed smog messaging confuses patients: Ontario's Doctors

    OMA re-launches its Smog-Wise advice to clear the air

    TORONTO, Aug. 22 /CNW/ - In light of the weather forecast for this
weekend, Ontario's doctors are concerned that two smog information systems may
provide conflicting information to patients. Doctors are reminding those who
are most vulnerable to smog to monitor their health, keep an eye on the
weather and to not fully rely on public smog reports.
    "Doctors want to ensure that our patients have the knowledge and tools
needed to protect themselves from the dangers of smog," said Dr. Ken Arnold,
President of the Ontario Medical Association (OMA). "Smog can cause a variety
of minor to severe health impacts, so it's important that patients are mindful
of how they, and those in their care, are coping during times of high smog."
    There are currently two smog indexes used to alert Ontarians to harmful
pollution concentrations. The Provincial Air Quality Index (AQI) and the new
Federal Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), which is currently operating as a
pilot project in the Greater Toronto Area. The AQI reports on air quality,
(ratings from Very Good to Very Poor air) and the AQHI reports on the health
risk (from Low to Very High risk). Doctors highlight that while both indexes
offer useful guidance, they are not coordinated and the possibility for public
confusion arises when one index warns that air quality is poor and the other
that health risk is just moderate, or vice versa.
    Smog is a complex mixture of pollutants and can cause health problems
ranging from irritation of the eyes and throat, serious breathing distress and
even cardiac arrest. Smog often covers large areas of Ontario, so even those
who live outside of cities and industrial centres are not immune to its
    Doctors believe it is helpful to watch for smog advisories, but want to
ensure that patients are able to independently recognize when to protect
themselves. Here are a few quick tips on how to reduce your smog risk:

    -   Learn to recognize when smog is at its worst and reduce strenuous
    -   If you are concerned about smog's impact on a pre-existing health
        condition (e.g., asthma, heart disease), or have other health
        concerns, talk to your doctor.
    -   If you or those in your care are vulnerable to the effects of smog,
        staying in a cool, clean, air-conditioned environment may be
    -   Know your limits and pay attention to how you are feeling.
    -   As everyone's health response is different, do not assume that Low
        Risk or Moderate Air Quality forecasts mean that it is safe for

    "Doctors want our patients to be able to enjoy the summer weather, but we
want them to stay healthy while doing it," said Dr. Arnold. "Being smog-wise,
watching the weather conditions and listening to what your body is telling
you, makes good health sense."

    Smog Myths and Medical Realities

    Smog Myth No.1 -   As long as there is no smog alert, the air is safe for
    --------------     my children and I.

    Health Reality - Smog Advisories are still issued by the Ministry of the
Environment when high pollution concentrations are expected, but many people
can be vulnerable to smog's effects at lower smog concentrations. If the new
Air Quality Health Index is adopted, smog alert warnings may not be issued at
all. So if a smog alert is issued, take care, but don't wait for an alert to
be smog-wise.

    Smog Myth No.2 - Smog is really only a problem if you've got asthma.
    Health Reality - Smog affects us all, but some people are more susceptible
to smog-related illness. These include those with cardiac conditions such as
heart failure and arterial sclerosis, or respiratory diseases such as asthma,
emphysema, COPD and chronic bronchitis. Health studies show that more
premature smog deaths are related to cardiac conditions, than respiratory

    Smog Myth No.3 - Since air conditioners contribute to pollution,
    --------------   everyone should turn theirs off when it's smoggy.
    Health Reality - Although air conditioners do contribute to pollution,
they are also an important defence against the combined effects of heat and
smog. Most people will be fine without retreating to an air conditioned
environment, but if you or those in your care have a serious pre-existing
illness, a cool, clean environment can help reduce the smog's effects.
Sometimes air conditioning is the only solution.

    Smog Myth No.4 - If you live in the country or are visiting a cottage,
    --------------   the air will be cleaner than in the city. Smog is only
                     an urban problem.

    Health Reality - Smog often covers all of Southern and Central Ontario,
with smog alerts common from Windsor to Parry Sound and from Sault Ste. Marie
to Cornwall. At home, in cottage country or at camp, children are exposed to
dangerous levels of smog.

    For more information about the impact of smog visit www.oma.org.

For further information:

For further information: please contact Lorraine Forster at (416)
340-2862 or toll-free at 1-800-268-7215 ext. 2862.

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