Moving Us Closer To Osler
A Miller Coulson Academy of Clinical Excellence Initiative

Is it safe to breathe?


Wildfires are predicted to worsen in intensity and frequency due to global warming. When the air quality is poor, encourage those with underlying cardiopulmonary conditions to stay inside if possible, and to wear a well-fitted mask outdoors. 

“How safe is the air we’re breathing?” That’s the question many are asking as wildfires burn in Canada and the air quality in both the American west and east is poor. We know that air pollutants, like smoke, can cause health problems in the short term, long term, and, for some people, both.

Toxins such as particulate matter 2.5, ozone, nitric oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide cause a spectrum of symptoms, from unpleasant respiratory feelings to the need for immediate medical attention due to the worsening of underlying cardiopulmonary diseases. There can also be long term consequences of poor air quality, as it has been linked to certain cancers, cardiopulmonary diseases, infant mortality, and dementia.  


It’s important to encourage patients to read the daily air quality report on their weather app, such as Accuweather or to visit . . .. If it’s a poor air quality day, advise them to stay inside or wear a well-fitted mask when outside. People should also check in on vulnerable loved ones to assure they’re ok on poor air quality days.  


Wildfires are predicted to worsen in intensity and frequency due to global warming. Our quality of life decreases when the air we breathe is no longer safe. Advocate for policies at the local and national level to work toward decreasing global warming to improve air quality for all. 








This piece expresses the views solely of the author. It does not necessarily represent the views of any organization, including Johns Hopkins Medicine.