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Bushfire smoke and your health

Bushfire smoke can reduce the quality of the air you breathe.

How can bushfire smoke affect health?

Smoke from a bushfire is made up of large particulate matter from burning debris which irritates the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. The finer particles are able to penetrate deep into the lung tissue and are more harmful. Smoke also contains toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Bushfire smoke, if present in high enough concentrations, can cause a number of health problems, such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing and coughing
  • burning eyes
  • running nose
  • chest tightness
  • chest pain
  • dizziness or light-headedness.

Bushfire smoke can also aggravate existing health problems.

Symptoms

Symptoms can occur after exposure so it is important to be vigilant and to continue any previously prescribed treatment.

Preventative measures

To minimise the effect from exposure to bushfire smoke:

  • stay indoors and close windows, doors and, where possible, air vents
  • stay in air-conditioned premises, if possible. Switch refrigerated air-conditioner to 'recycle' or 'recirculate'. Evaporative air conditioners should be turned off at the first sign of thick, heavy smoke
  • reduce other sources of air pollution or household activities such as cooking with gas, burning candles or vacuum cleaning
  • avoid vigorous activities especially if the older person has asthma or other chronic lung or heart conditions.

Face masks

Ordinary paper dusk masks, handkerchiefs or bandanas do not filter out fine particles from bushfire smoke and are generally not very useful in protecting your lungs.

Special masks (called 'P2') filter bushfire smoke, providing a greater protection against inhaling fine particles. They are available at most hardware stores.

Further information

For further information on bushfire smoke for older people, see the Advice for older people fact sheet (PDF 257KB).

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