Bushfire smoke and your health
This page provides information for people exposed to bushfire smoke outside of an immediate fire emergency zone.
If you are in direct contact with smoke, radiant heat and flames of an emergency fire zone, follow the instructions of emergency services and SA Country Fire Service.
Bushfire smoke can reduce air quality and irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Fine particles can penetrate deep into the lungs and cross into the bloodstream.
Smoke particles can aggravate existing lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma, and/or heart conditions.
Smoky air can also contain harmful gases and chemicals. If buildings, garbage or vehicles are burnt, the smoke may also contain very toxic chemicals, including asbestos.
Air quality updates for all of South Australia can be found on the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) website.
People at risk
- People with existing heart or lung conditions, including angina, ischaemic heart disease, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (bronchitis and emphysema)
- people over 65 years of age
- children 14 years and younger (especially those with asthma)
- pregnant and breastfeeding people
- people with diabetes.
A person may feel unwell for up to several days after exposure to bushfire smoke, so it is important to continue any medications as prescribed. Symptoms of bushfire smoke can include:
- shortness of breath
- wheezing and coughing
- burning eyes
- running nose
- chest tightness
- chest pain
- dizziness or light-headedness
- psychological distress
If you are having difficulty breathing, seek medical attention from your local GP. If your symptoms become severe, call 000.
To minimise the health effects from exposure to bushfire smoke:
- Stay indoors as much as possible.
- Close windows, doors, and air vents (this may only assist with reduced exposure for hours or a few days, as outside air will eventually enter the home).
- Use appropriate air conditioner settings in the home and vehicles to prevent outside air coming in:
- Home air conditioners, such as split systems and ducted reverse cycle air conditioners, do not draw in outside air and do not need to be adjusted.
- Evaporative systems should be turned off if the air is smoky as they rely on air from outside.
- Set your car air conditioner to the 'recirculate' mode if possible.
- Spend time in air-conditioned venues, like cinemas, shopping centres and libraries. Their central air conditioning systems may use filters that can keep out particles more efficiently.
- Reduce indoor sources of air pollution, such as smoking, cooking with gas, burning candles or vacuum cleaning.
- Avoid vigorous outdoor activities, especially if you have asthma or other chronic lung or heart conditions.
Special masks (called 'P2' or N95' or KN95) can filter bushfire smoke and provide some protection against inhaling fine particles if used correctly. Ideally, masks should be fitted and need to be changed regularly, especially if thick smoke is present (3 to 4 times a day).
Ordinary paper masks, surgical masks, handkerchiefs or bandanas do not filter out fine particles from bushfire smoke and are generally not very useful in protecting your lungs.
For more information, visit healthdirect.
Odour from bushfire smoke can remain after the smoke has cleared.
When air quality improves, doors and windows should be opened to help ventilate the home and remove smoke odour. Hard surfaces (furniture, walls and floors) can be washed with mild soap or detergent and water. Soft furniture and bedding can be aired outside but may need washing to remove the smell of smoke.
When smoke travels long distances, there may not be an odour, but a fine haze of particles can continue to trigger symptoms in some people. People who have respiratory issues should continue monitoring their symptoms until the haze has completely gone.