Background: Exposure to air pollution has been linked to the exacerbation of respiratory diseases. The Air Quality Health Index (AQHI), developed in Canada, is a new health risk scale for reporting air quality and advising risk reduction actions.
Objective: We used the AQHI to estimate the impact of air quality on asthma morbidity, adjusting for potential confounders.
Methods: Daily air pollutant measures were obtained from 14 regional monitoring stations in Ontario. Daily counts of asthma-attributed hospitalizations, emergency department (ED) visits, and outpatient visits were obtained from a provincial registry of 1.5 million patients with asthma. Poisson regression was used to estimate health services rate ratios (RRs) as a measure of association between the AQHI or individual pollutants and health services use. We adjusted for age, sex, season, year, and region of residence.
Results: The AQHI values were significantly associated with increased use of asthma health services on the same day and on the 2 following days, depending on the specific outcome assessed. A 1-unit increase in the AQHI was associated with a 5.6% increase in asthma outpatient visits (RR = 1.056; 95% CI: 1.053, 1.058) and a 2.1% increase in the rate of hospitalization (RR = 1.021; 95% CI: 1.014, 1.028) on the same day and with a 1.3% increase in the rate of ED visits (RR = 1.013; 95% CI: 1.010, 1.017) after a 2-day lag.
Conclusions: The AQHI values were significantly associated with the use of asthma-related health services. Timely AQHI health risk advisories with integrated risk reduction messages may reduce morbidity associated with air pollution in patients with asthma.