NANAIMO — An air quality advisory is in place for the Nanaimo and Parksville areas due to thickened smoke from wildfires.
The B.C. government listed the mid-island's Air Quality Health Index at a 10+ Monday morning, which is considered a very high health risk.
At risk populations such as children and the elderly should avoid physical outdoor exertion.
Otherwise if you have symptoms like coughing or throat irritation you're advised to reduce or reschedule strenuous outdoor activities.
Smoky skies will continue across most of the province for the next few days, according to Environment Canada.
The smoke could be particularly harmful for children and seniors but anyone with poor health should take precautions, says a senior scientist.
Sarah Henderson of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said children's lungs don't fully develop until about age 10 and are therefore more sensitive so it's best for them to stay indoors when air quality is poor. Elderly people may be more affected by smoke because lung function decreases with age, she said.
"You can't hold as much air in your lungs, that's the natural part of the aging process, but it means the smoke might have more effect on you than a healthy younger person, especially if you happen to have some chronic disease," Henderson said.
"We're concerned about anybody with any kind of pre-existing condition — MS, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and definitely respiratory diseases," she said Monday.
Small particles breathed in from the fires are interpreted as foreign invaders by the body, the same as a bacterium or a virus, Henderson said, adding it mounts an attack, or an immunological response, which leads to inflammation.
Pregnant women should also take precautions because exposure to smoke can cause lower birth weights, likely leading to long-term problems, she said in an interview.
"Infants have very sensitive lungs when they're born so the smoke is going to be even worse for them and depending on the level of exposure, there might be damage done to infant lungs, which might have lifelong implications."
Henderson suggested using portable air cleaners indoors to keep the air as clean as possible during smoky conditions.
— with files from The Canadian Press
On Twitter: @nanaimonewsnow
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