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  • Writer's pictureKate Bradshaw

Bush Fire Smoke Alert

NSW Health is reminding people to take precautions as smoke from the severe bush fires is expected to cause poor air quality in Sydney and the Hunter this afternoon.

NSW Health Director of Environmental Health Dr Richard Broome reminds people to take precautions as smoke can irritate the respiratory system and aggravate existing lung and heart conditions. “Smoke from fires on the Mid-North Coast is being blown south and we’re expecting poor air quality this afternoon,” said Dr Broome. “Smoke contains fine particles that can affect people’s health,” said Dr Broome.

“For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat. However, people with existing lung and heart conditions like asthma, emphysema and angina are more likely to be sensitive to the effects of smoke.

“People with these conditions should avoid outdoor physical activity when there’s smoke around. “People with asthma should also follow their Asthma Action Plan and have their relieving medication with them.” “The best way to reduce exposure to smoke is to stay indoors with the doors and windows shut. Air conditioning can also help to filter particles from indoor air,” Dr Broome said.

What is bushfire smoke?

Smoke from bush fires is made up of small particles, gases and water vapour. The particles are very small - up to 1/30th the diameter of an average human hair - and are not visible to the human eye. The gases in bush fire smoke include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds.

Bushfire smoke exposure and health effects

Fine smoke particles are known to affect the human breathing system. The smaller or finer the particles, the deeper they go into the lungs. These particles can cause a variety of health problems, such as itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis. The smoke particles can also aggravate existing lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Symptoms can occur for several days after smoke is inhaled, so people with the above conditions need to be vigilant with their treatment programs.

If you have asthma or a lung condition and you develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, follow your asthma or COPD action plan. If symptoms do not settle, seek medical advice. If you are on home oxygen treatment, continue as prescribed. If breathlessness worsens, contact your doctor. Healthy adults generally find that any symptoms they have developed during a bush fire event clear after the smoke disappears.

Health precautions

The following precautions can help you minimise adverse effects of bush fire smoke:

Stay indoors, with windows and doors closed, or stay in air-conditioned premises, if possible.Avoid vigorous exercise, especially if you have asthma or a lung condition.

A P2 face mask that is fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, so there is a good seal around the face, can reduce exposure to fine particles in smoke. However, it can be hard to maintain a good seal and masks become less effective when used for a long time, so they may not offer substantial protection.

If smoke conditions are hazardous, your local Public Health Unit may advise you to postpone outdoor events or seek shelter in air-conditioned premises or a clean-air room, if one is available. If the bu​sh fire event lasts a long time, say, a few weeks, consider the following precautions to reduce exposure: Take advantage of any breaks in smoky conditions to air out your home, but remember to close off the house again when conditions deteriorate.Reduce physical activity.If you are particularly susceptible to bush fire smoke, consider staying with a friend or relative whose house has clean indoor air, or leaving the area for a cleaner environment.

Up-to-date information on air quality is available on the NSW Air Quality Website

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