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Injury prevention

Respiratory emergencies

Along with heart and stroke emergencies, respiratory emergencies account for most of the life threatening calls that paramedics respond to. People suffering from asthma and choking emergencies and those suffering from respiratory difficulties due to underlying heart failure require rapid intervention from paramedics.

Key to preventing respiratory illnesses are:

  • A healthy lifestyle
  • Wearing protective respiratory devices when working in hazardous environments
  • Good communication with your physician

Please review the information in this section about respiratory emergencies.


Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects the airway passages in the lungs. It is characterized by shortness of breath and wheezing. Every year in Canada about 500 people die from asthma attacks. However, most of these deaths could have been prevented through proper training, education, and management.

What causes asthma?

Asthma attacks are often brought on by triggers like; dust, pollen, cigarette smoke, perfumes. These triggers may induce an asthma attack. Asthma results in the lining in the small airways to become inflamed (irritated or swollen) and secrete mucous. Muscles around the airway passages constrict and reduce the airflow even more. When the person breathes, air passes through tiny air passages and a high-pitched sound is made. This is called a wheeze.

Causes or triggers of asthma;
  • Food or animal allergies
  • Smoke from cigarettes or fires
  • Pollen, dust, moulds
  • Exercise
  • Infections
  • Stress
  • Chemical Fumes
  • Perfumes
  • Cold air
  • Aspirin may trigger an asthmatic attack in people with a history of asthma

What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?

A person having an asthmatic attack may show one or more of the following signs:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Use of accessory breathing muscles (abdominal)
  • Lips or nails may turn bluish in colour
  • Difficulty speaking - may even be unable to complete a full sentence
  • Productive cough

What to do when someone is having an asthma attack?

  • Dial 9-1-1 immediately and ask for paramedics
  • If the person is prescribed an inhaler for asthma, assist the person with their medication
  • Loosen any tight fitting clothing around their neck
  • If the person goes unconscious, lay them on their side and monitor their airway, breathing, and circulation
  • Have someone meet the paramedics outside
  • Learn CPR and start artificial respirations when a person stops breathing

What will the paramedics do when they arrive?

  • Administer oxygen through a mask
  • Take your vital signs - your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate
  • Administer medication through a small box or mask
  • If required place a tube in the trachea (windpipe) to help the person breathe
  • They may start an intravenous in case further medication is required

How to prevent an asthma attack?

  • Avoid triggers which may precipitate an asthma attack
  • Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor
  • Wear a medic alert bracelet identifying what medical condition you have
  • If you are a smoker, quit! Smoking is the leading cause of lung disease and will contribute to the development of asthma and/or other lung related illnesses


Choking occurs when an object is lodged in the entrance of the airway preventing air from entering the lungs. Choking occurs most often in young children. Choking is also referred to as an airway obstruction. The obstruction can be partial or complete.

What causes an airway obstruction?

Even an object the size of your small finger can become lodged in the airway. In children, an object a small as a peanut can cause a total airway obstruction. The most frequent causes of airway obstructions are:

  • Small toys or foods (often with children)
  • Severe allergic reactions (swelling of the throat and tongue)
  • Crushing of the airway (trachea) like strangulation

What to look for when someone is choking?

  • Initially people who are choking may want to leave the area - follow them and insure thay are safe
  • The face may turn blue
  • People who are chocking will put their hands to their throat
  • The person is unable to speak and cry out for help
  • Person may be coughing (trying to expel the object)

What to do when someone is choking?

  • Dial 9-1-1 immediately and ask for paramedics
  • Administer the Heimlich maneuver
  • Give four back blows
  • Deliver four chest thrusts
  • If a child, place them over your arm or lay them face down on your lap when sitting, with head lower than body
  • Only if you see the object do you remove it
  • If unsuccessful, repeat the sequence until obstruction is dislodged

What the paramedics will do when they arrive?

  • Apply the Heimlich maneuver or CPR chest thrusts
  • The paramedics may use special instruments to remove the obstruction
  • Once the person's airway is opened, administer oxygen through a mask to help the person breathe, then obtain vital signs - blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate
  • An intravenous may be started in order to administer medication

How to prevent choking?

  • Always chew your food properly
  • Never eat when walking or running
  • When feeding children make sure food is small enough for child to swallow
  • Remove objects within children's reach which may cause an obstruction
  • Don't allow children to eat in a moving vehicle or while talking

Protect your hearing

Avoid noises that are too loud, too close or last too long

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is hearing damage caused by loud sounds such as amplified music from Mp3’s, concerts, clubs, and parties or home sound systems.

NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to an excessively loud sound or by ongoing exposure to loud sounds over a longer period of time.

How loud is too loud

When you hear someone shouting

Sound levels

Length of exposure that puts you at risk

a metre away from you

higher than 85 dBA

eight hours or more per day

30 cm away

higher than 95 dBA

about 45 minutes or more per day

into your ear

higher than 105 dBA

just five minutes per day

Find out more about typical sound levels.

Symptoms of NIHL?

  • distorted or muffled sound
  • difficulty understanding speech
  • ringing, buzzing, roaring, or rushing sound in the ear

If this happens to you, talk to your doctor

Protect your hearing

  • limit the time spent around excessive noise
  • wear a properly fitted hearing protection device such as earplugs, consult an audiologist if you need assistance.
  • sit or stand away from speakers at concerts
  • help your ears recover after being exposed to loud noises by spending time in a quiet place

For more information

City of Ottawa Noise By-law, includes Noise By-law Exemption Application form
Your Guide to What's Happening in Ottawa – festivals and fairs
Sound Sense
Canadian Hearing Society

Water Safety

Water Safety Messages:

  • Always keep children within arms’ reach, in and around the water. Never leave a child alone, whether it is in the bathtub, a swimming pool or any body of water such as rivers or lakes.
  • Make sure children and weaker swimmers wear lifejackets or personal flotation devices (PFD) in and around the water.
  • Supervise and swim with children only when free of alcohol, drugs and distractions.
  • Keep safety equipment and a phone close to the pool. 
  • Ottawa Public Health recommends installing four-sided fencing to ensure access to pool is completely separate from the house, preventing direct access from a child.
  • Children under the age of five should never use a hot tub — not even with an adult. Hot tubs are too hot for young children, may have high bacteria, and the drain in the hot tub can trap children.
  • Make sure you and your family members learn to swim.
  • Enjoy safe boating. Make sure that you and your family members always wear a properly sized lifejacket/PFD when in a boat. When not in use, lifejackets/PFDs need to be kept in a dry, ventilated area and out of direct sunlight.
  • Know what to do in an emergency, including CPR and calling 9-1-1.


Talk with Children about Water Safety

Teach your child to:

  • Stay away from fast moving water like rivers and streams
  • Call 9-1-1 when anyone is in trouble
  • Always swim with a friend or adult
  • Wear a lifejacket/PFD
  • Check the water: how deep is it? Are there any dangers in the water?

Recommended links:

Helmet safety

What you need to know about helmets

You must wear a helmet while riding a bicycle if  you are under the age of 18. (Ontario Highway Traffic Act).

You must wear a certified multi-impact helmet at all city of Ottawa public skating sessions at indoor arenas if you are aged 10 and under or if you are a weak skater of any age. (City of Ottawa Policy)

Helmets are recommended for all ages while taking part in recreational activities like skateboarding, rollerblading, biking, sledding, skating, skiing and snowboarding.

How helmets protect your head

A helmet prevents a serious brain or head injury by absorbing the force from a fall or hit to the head. There are many types of helmets. Most helmets fit into one of the following categories:

  • Single Impact – designed to protect against ONE impact; Must be replaced after a crash or hard hit, even if it does not appear to have any damage

  • Multi Impact – designed to protect against more than one impact; Must be replaced when you see damage

  • Multi Sport – designed for more than one activity. Check the manufacturer’s label for the list of activities for which the helmet can be worn safely

Choosing the right helmet

What to look for, when buying a helmet

  • Check for the certification sticker – found on the inside or outside of the helmet
  • Buy a helmet that fits now not one to grow into
  • Never buy a used helmet


Recommended Helmet

Type of Protection

(Canadian, US, European)

Bicycling &
Non-motorized scooters

Bicycle helmet

Single impact

CSA, CPSC, ASTM or Snell

In-line or roller skating  

Bicycle / in-line skating or
skateboard helmet

Mostly single impact

CSA, CPSC, ASTM or Snell

BMX cycling

BMX helmet

Single/ Multi impact



Skateboard or bicycle helmet

Single/Multi impact

ASTM, Snell, CEN,

Ice hockey/ skating

Hockey helmet

Multi impact


Skiing & Snowboarding

Ski helmet

Single impact

Snell, ASTM, or CSA


Hockey or ski helmet

Single / Multi impact

CSA, CPSC or Snell

How to wear a helmet

General tips

  • Don’t wear a hat under a helmet. A cotton hajab is ok.
  • Wear ponytails at the base of the neck
  • A thin fleece toque is ok under hockey and ski helmets

Bicycle helmets

Put the helmet on so that it is not tilting backward or forward. Then check the following:

Two fingers distance from helmet to eyebrow
Two fingers distance from helmet to eyebrow

V-shape straps around each ear
V-shape straps around each ear

One finger between chin and fastened strap
One finger between chin and fastened strap

Shake your head up and down, and side to side. Your helmet should stay in place and feel comfortably snug.

Hockey helmets

Put the helmet on so that it is not tilting backward or forward. Then check the following:

One finger between the chinstrap and chin
One finger between the chinstrap and chin
One finger distance from helmet to eyebrow
One finger distance from helmet to eyebrow
Helmet does not move
Helmet does not moveShake your head up and down, and side to side. Your helmet should stay in place and feel comfortably snug.

Other sport helmets

  • Make sure the helmet is level on the head and not leaning forward or backward 
  • Adjust side and chin straps according to the manufacturer instructions
  • Shake your head up and down and side to side. Your helmet should stay in place and feel comfortably snug

When to replace your helmet

  • After a crash or large impact
  • When it does not fit anymore
  • Helmets with cracks, dents or frayed and torn straps
  • Every five years after the manufacturing date for bicycle helmets 

Instructions and illustrations provided by Thinkfirst.

Thinkfirst Canada