How To Manage Bushfire Smoke Haze Health Risks

Published: 06-01-2020

What’s in bushfire smoke that makes it a health risk?

Bushfire smoke is a mixture of water vapour, small particles and gases. This may include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

These gases travel long distances and are known to irritate the respiratory system, but according to NSW Health evidence suggests it’s the particles that are most damaging to people’s health. The smaller and finer the particles, the more damaging they can be as they can travel deeper into the lungs.

Symptoms caused by these particles can continue for days after they are inhaled.

Who is at risk?

Those most at risk of being affected by bushfire smoke include:

  • People with existing heart or lung conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic bronchitis
  • Pregnant women
  • Older people
  • Young children

How does smoke affect you?

Those in a high risk group will feel the affect more than the general population. For instance, people with asthma may experience wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing around the smoke and for some days after.

With healthy people, the pollution is better tolerated but they may still experience itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, runny nose and some coughing.

“If your maximum visibility is 1.5 kilometres or less, your air quality is in the hazardous level, and you need to limit your time outdoors, limit exercise and follow any treatment plans”

What can you do to reduce your chances of being affected?

For those affected bushfire smoke, but not under direct threat from fires, VIC Emergency and NSW Health recommend the following precautions to reduce the health effects.

1. Stay indoors

Minimise the time spent in smoky conditions whenever practical to do so.

2. Follow your asthma plan and carry reliever medication with you

3. Listen to your doctor’s advice about medicines and keep medication close at hand

4. Spend time in air conditioned venues

For example, cinemas, libraries and shopping centres.

5. Avoid indoor sources of air pollution

Such as cigarettes, candles and incense sticks.

6. Monitor air quality and follow health messages

Air quality information and health messages are available at NSW Air Quality Index (AQI) and EPA Victoria

7. Use an air purifier with a high efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter

To work well, the air purifier must be matched to the size of the room it is in and the room must be well sealed. Humidifiers, negative ion generators and odour absorbers do not remove fine particles in bushfire smoke.

Stay safe, ensure your pets are safe and make sure to check on older adults, children and pregnant women as they may be at greater risk from bushfire smoke.

Anyone experiencing wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing should call Triple Zero (000).

If you have concerns about your health you should seek medical advice or call Nurse on Call on 1300 606 024.