Respirologist on how we can breathe easy this summer

“The more high pollution advisory days that we have due to wildfires, the harder it is for people to live their lives. But people can take precautions.”

Respirologist on how we can breathe easy this summer

Clinician-scientist and respirologist Dr. Samir Gupta is the Michael Locke Chair in Knowledge Translation and Rare Lung Diseases, and this year’s first-place winner of Research Innovation Council (RiC) funding. We spoke to Dr. Gupta about what precautions people with respiratory challenges should take during wildfire season and how securing $180,000 in RiC support will help scale his lab’s electronic asthma management system (eAMS) for Canada’s pharmacies.

Canada is experiencing an unprecedented wildfire season, with blazes so intense that the smoke has affected the air quality in many provinces and parts of the U.S. What is your advice for people to prevent complications from exposure to this air pollution?

The more high pollution advisory (HPA) days that we have due to wildfires, the harder it is for people to live their lives. But people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or other at-risk conditions can take these precautions:

  • Pay close attention to the air quality health index each day. Even if the index is in the moderate range, you should try your best to minimize your time outdoors until the index is in the lower range later that day or on a subsequent day.
  • If you do have to go out, wear a mask—preferably an N95 mask—and limit your time and activity outdoors. The more physically active you are, the more you will breathe in those dangerous particles.
  • Keep windows and doors closed to block out the pollution and change your HVAC air filter often.
  • Pay attention to symptoms, like coughing or difficult breathing, and if you have asthma or COPD, ask your healthcare provider for a self-management action plan that can instruct you on what to do when your disease flares up.

You are an expert on asthma. With asthma affecting one in three people in Canada over a lifetime, and costing health systems more than $2 billion each year, what can be done to help ease the strain?

Primary care has been especially strained since the COVID-19 pandemic, and governments across the country are leaning on other healthcare providers like pharmacists to help deliver care. Over 10 years of research and development, my lab has created the eAMS. The technology helps primary care providers optimize asthma care in line with best-practice guidelines. And now, eAMS-Pharma will empower pharmacists to play a key role in optimizing these patients’ care and outcomes.

The basic premise of the tool is to get patients on the right medications and to help them better handle their asthma flares-ups through a self-management asthma action plan, while advising pharmacists on best care and enabling them to send prescription requests to physicians. Once we prove this concept for asthma, we plan to leverage the same platform for COPD, a condition that accounts for the most hospital admissions in Canada, after elective admissions for childbirth.

What was it like to win RiC support for your asthma research?

First, it was a great honour to be selected among such excellent candidates, who have been very successful in their own research ventures. Also, a lot of work goes into securing research grants of this size, especially for innovative and less conventional projects like ours. So, vying for the RiC grant that makes high-risk, high-reward research possible was a great opportunity to try to access funds and make our vision—our moonshot—a reality.

Want to support Dr. Samir Gupta's research? Learn more and donate here.

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