Healthy Living in the North

Breathe easier during smoky skies

Smoky skies above the city

Protect yourself during smoky skies bulletins. Photo by Barb Oke.

The province is currently inundated with numerous wildfires. Not only are fires a serious safety risk, but the smoke from these fires can be harmful to our health (especially to unborn children, children, the elderly, and those with chronic illness).

Here are some quick tips for breathing easier during a smoky skies bulletin:

  • Limit your exposure to wildfire smoke
    • Stay indoors and keep the air clean (windows/doors closed, no smoking, no burning fireplaces/candles/incense, no vacuuming, use a HEPA or EP indoor air cleaner if available).
    • Reduce the amount of time spent outdoors – avoid rigorous outdoor activities.
    • When in a vehicle, keep windows closed with air conditioning set to recirculate.
  • Visit a clean air shelter or a location that has a large volume of air that is air conditioned and filters the air (such as shopping malls, swimming pools, public libraries, etc.).
  • People with asthma or other chronic illness should ensure they have an adequate supply of inhalers/medication and should activate their asthma or personal care plans. Some people may consider leaving the smoke filled area altogether if symptoms cannot be managed according to their care plan.
  • Visit HealthLinkBC, call 8-1-1 (non-emergency), see your doctor, or call 9-1-1 (emergency) if you’re experiencing symptoms, ranging from eye, nose, and throat irritation to difficulties breathing and cardiovascular distress.
  • Be aware – visit for current air quality information.

Smoky conditions often happen during hot weather events, which means that it may also be important to stay cool:

  • Spend time in the coolest room in the home (e.g. basement).
  • Use an air conditioner or spend time at a location equipped with air conditioning and air filtration.
  • Take a cool bath or shower.

For information regarding wildfires, including information on wildfire status and prevention, visit the BC Wildfire Service. Report wildfires to *5555 (cell) or 1-800-663-5555.

For road updates, please contact

For evacuation updates, please connect with Emergency Info BC:

For tips on how to prepare for the wildfire smoke season, see BC Lung.

Northern Health supports the Ministry of Environment (MoE) with air quality advisories and bulletins when certain air pollutants become a concern. MoE issues Smoky Skies Bulletins when smoke can be expected in a local airshed. Unlike air quality advisories which are based on air concentrations measured at monitors, these Smoky Skies Bulletins are issued by a meteorologist who uses a number of different tools to determine that smoke is likely to enter a specified region. These bulletins can provide sooner warning to people that their health may be affected during the smoke event and may also be in affect longer than a typical advisory due to the unpredictable nature of wildfire smoke.

Paula Tait

About Paula Tait

Paula works in Prince George as a Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor, working collaboratively to assess and minimize health impacts related to industrial development. Born and raised in Terrace, she completed her schooling in Edmonton, and started her environmental health career in southeast Saskatchewan in 2005. She has been back in northern B.C. since 2010. Paula enjoys being creative, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends.


Can I have a moment of your time?

The present moment, if you think about it, is the only time there is. No matter what time it is, it is always now. -Marianne Williamson

Clock face

There are many way to be in the moment – Reg suggests breathing exercises as a great way to relax and reduce stress.

Time is a funny thing

Time has no wings, but flies occasionally. It has no feet, but sometimes drags on. We never seem to have enough of it, but there’s no way to store it for later. It’s not uncommon to spend time planning our future or reveling in our past glories, however, how often do you truly stop and savour the moment? To be honest, we have neither the future nor the past, only the present moment in time.

Now I’m not saying it isn’t important to plan for the future or look to the past for guidance or inspiration. What I’m saying is that it is important to slow down and appreciate where we are. Finding ways to be in the moment can have a positive effect on your health and well-being. It can help by promoting relaxation, reducing stress and narrowing your focus when needed. Learning to stop and appreciate the moments when good things happen can improve your mood and cheer you up.

Be “in the moment”

There are many ways to be in the moment. Activities like meditation, tai chi, and yoga can help ground you in the present. Even more intense activities like playing sports, cycling, or working out can have the same effect. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as it connects you to the current moment in time.

I know, you’re probably thinking that while those are great suggestions, they might not always be practical. In reality, you’re right. I know my employer wouldn’t approve of mountain bike riding through the office corridors as a way of being in the moment! Nevertheless, there is one thing that can be done almost anywhere and anytime. You’ve done it since birth and you’ll do it every day for the rest of your life.

Breathe. Yup, that’s it.

The best thing is there’s nothing hard about breathing and you don’t need any special skills, equipment or a facility to do it in. Breathing exercises are a great way to stop the whirlwind around you and connect with the moment. But as always, there’s a catch.

You really need to pay attention to your breathing. Take a minute and try the following:

  • Close your eyes and breathe in through your nose.
  • Breathe in and fill your lungs with air.
  • Feel your chest and belly expand as you breathe in deeply.
  • Make sure to breathe at a pace that’s comfortable and when your lungs are full, pause for split second and exhale. You can exhale through your mouth or nose, it doesn’t really matter.
  • When your lungs are empty, pause for a split second and repeat.
  • Focus on your body and the breathing process. Feel the air moving into your nostrils and down to your lungs. Feel your chest rising and falling.
  • Repeat until you feel a sense of calm.
  • Open your eyes and be in the moment.

That’s it in a nutshell. You can learn to do many different types of breathing exercises and they all have the benefits of relaxation and stress reduction. Best of all, they aren’t complicated and don’t require hours of practice.

I know that at times it can be hard to focus on your breathing. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you may want to look into downloading apps that have guided breathing exercises. You can also use music if it helps you focus on your breathing. It also helps if you get into a habit of daily practice.

Now, take a few deep breaths and enjoy this moment of your life. A single moment can hold the surprise of a lifetime, but you might miss it if you’re a day ahead of yourself or a day behind.

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.


Tales from the Man Cave: Lung disease can suck the life out of you

Image of oxygen tank in front of a snowy background

Winter’s cold temperatures can make living with lung disease even harder. Jim knows the feeling and shares 13 tips to prevent exacerbations and improve lung health this winter.

People with chronic obstructive lung disease and asthma tend to have more episodes of worsening during winter months. So, with periods of deep freezing common during this time of year in northern B.C., it was suggested that I write about winter lung health. Having been diagnosed with emphysema for the last 20 years, it is a subject in which I am well versed!

The truth of the matter is this: when you can’t breathe properly, nothing else matters and a winter worsening of symptoms can see a person go from mild discomfort to all out panic and depression. For everybody who knows what that feels like, you know that it is an experience that can’t be put into words. This is why it is so important to ask: As winter kicks into high gear, what can those of us with lung disease do to try and avoid those exacerbations?

Here’s my short list of tips for winter lung health:

  1. We know that smoking is the worst thing that a person with chronic lung disease or asthma can do. I should not really have to say that but there are folks who have terrible difficulties quitting. To them, my advice is this: don’t feel guilty, just stop again and again and again. The carbon monoxide from cigarettes is robbing you of precious oxygen. I feel your pain, but stop and keep stopping if you have to. Look for supports to help you stop smoking, like nicotine replacement therapy. Visit for great resources too.
  2. Watch your symptoms. If you’re asthmatic, you need to keep an eye on your peak flow meter. Make sure that you are taking any long-acting medication as prescribed and discussed with your doctor. Even if you are feeling OK, carry a rescue puffer with you.
  3. Air quality. Sometimes this is poorer in the winter so get into the habit of watching your local weather channel air quality report or visit, especially if you are carrying out any outdoor activity.
  4. Look out for those little increases in breathing difficulty during normal effort or slight exertion.
  5. Watch for an increase in cough or sputum. If it does not improve, see your doctor as soon as possible.
  6. Keep a thermometre in the house so that you can check if you are getting a fever.
  7. If you have chronic bronchitis, you will no doubt have an antibiotic on hand just in case of an attack. Don’t be afraid to use it and make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you do. If the intensity of the attack is unusual or feels really bad, don’t be afraid to go to your local emergency department. Better safe than sorry!
  8. If you have home oxygen, you should use it as prescribed by your doctor, especially during increased activity. By using your home oxygen, you are using less effort to get that necessary oxygen and important rest. Don’t smoke with your home oxygen tank on – it can catch on fire and there are several cases of this happening every year throughout the province.
  9. During winter months, some folks with COPD and asthma have a reaction to the cold. There are proprietary masks out there if you want to look for them but you should use at least a scarf to cover your mouth and nose when out in the cold if you can tolerate that.
  10. You can’t always avoid perfumes or smoke or other noxious smells that can trigger an attack but if you sense those around you, get out of that environment as quickly as you can.
  11. Keep as active as you can. One thing to watch is the buildup of body temperature when engaged in activities such as exercise or walking outside. It can creep up on you and really make you breathless all of a sudden, especially if you’re wrapped up against the cold. Find your tolerance and carry out those tasks in smaller bites to suit the disease you have.
  12. Eat a diet that’s full of nutritious food. Depending on how progressed your lung disease is, if eating makes you feel uncomfortable, you might have to have smaller, more frequent nutritious meals. If you are losing weight you should consult a doctor and dietitian.
  13. Learn to breathe. I know it’s something we do naturally and that we have no choice in the matter but with lung disease, we can start to develop a habit of breathing in a shallow fashion. For this, there is good advice all over the web (like at HealthLinkBC) but one way that can be doubly beneficial is to practice a relaxation-based technique such as yoga or meditation breathing. Learning to control your breathing might help to stop a panic in its tracks, even during a worsening of symptoms.

Winter can be a tough time for people with lung disease but we can still live a full life and, with the right preparations and precautions, even learn to push the envelope a little. I wish you well this winter.

For more information, visit:

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.