DAWSON CREEK -- In recent years, smoky skies and the harmful effects of wildfires used to be an occurrence that lasted a few days. Now, the risk of an entire summer exposed to this type of pollution has health experts worried when it comes to people living in Western Canada.

For most people, wildfire smoke means a few days with a sore throat, mild irritation, and general discomfort. To children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with underlying health conditions, increasingly long smoke exposure has become a much larger issue.

Now that smoke is lingering for weeks at a time, health experts say respiratory diseases, strokes, and heart disease are worsened by the increased air pollution. 

Air quality generally suggests staying indoors. However, more severe wildfire seasons, like here in B.C., are forcing health officials to come up with other options.

Some of the new approaches experts recommend include designated clean air sectors.

Dr. Menn Biagtan - Vice President for Health Initiatives at the B.C. Lung Association - suggests places like libraries and community centres could act as clean air refuges -or shelters.

"Shopping malls and libraries could be something like clean air refuges," Biagtan says,  "where people can come and go at certain hours, if they need fresher, or cleaner air. Designated shelters would be in areas affected by smoke. There might be beds in there, where families can stay there together for a period of more than 24 hours." 

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) recommends using portable HEPA air cleaners to filter air in home areas, visit public spaces such as community centres and libraries  -which tend to have cleaner, cooler indoor air- drinking lots of water to reduce inflammation, and using proper respirators when working outdoors. 

Dr. Biagtan also suggests people with underlying health issues take extra precautions, like ensuring they have enough medication to last through the wildfire season, and installing high-efficiency air filters. 

With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, many people in the Peace Region are choosing not to wear a mask.

The BCCDC says if you are working outside, staying outdoors for a prolonged period of time, or have respiratory problems, putting a mask back on to protect yourself against the many gases and small particles that are found in smoke from wildfires may be a good idea.