Bushfires have created smoky conditions across the country and it is essential to learn how to protect ourselves from bushfire smoke.

How can bushfire smoke affect my health?

Bushfire smoke can cause irritation of nose, eyes, chest tightness, difficulty breathing and wheezing, amongst other symptoms.

However, the affect bushfire smoke can have on your health will depend on your age and any pre-existing medical conditions you may have.

The amount of time you spend in smoky conditions will also play a significant role in how the smoke can affect your health.

Who is most vulnerable to bushfire smoke?

  • Children – children are vulnerable due to their developing airways
  • Elderly adults – elderly adults are vulnerable due to their increased vulnerability toward heart or respiratory conditions
  • Smokers – smokers are more vulnerable due to weakened lung capacity
  • Those with pre-existing health conditions – those with pre-existing conditions affecting the heart or lungs are more sensitive to breathing in particles from bushfire smoke
  • Homeless and rough sleepers - homeless and rough sleepers are vulnerable due to a lack of shelter and extended exposure to bushfire smoke
“We’ve seen an increase in asthma and respiratory distress cases per day than this time last year, with some cases specifically mentioning the smoke as an issue.”

How can I protect myself and my loved ones?

There are a number of measures you and your loved ones can take to ensure you protect yourselves against the potential effects of bushfire smoke:

  • Avoid outdoor exercise
  • Follow prescribed action plans for any pre-existing medical conditions
  • If there is a break in smoky conditions, air out your home
  • Keep windows and doors closed
  • Stay updated on conditions via local media and social media

Facemasks

P2 masks can help filter bushfire smoke and provide greater protection against inhaling fine particles.. They must be fitted correctly to work well. To maintain effective protection change the mask when it becomes moist, ideally in non-smoky environment. These are generally available via local hardware stores

However, there are a few things to consider before wearing a P2/N95 mask:

  • Seek medical advice before use if you have a pre-existing heart or lung condition
  • P2 masks may increase breathing difficulty
  • P2 masks will not filter out gases such as carbon monoxide
“The P2 masks have traditionally been used in health to protect healthworkers from viral infections such as influenza, SARS. They must be fitted well. Compliance is a challenge; obviously they’re effectiveness depends on people keeping them on during periods of exposure and changing them frequently when they get moist from water vapour in breath or sweat. Once moist, their filtering efficiency diminishes.

The masks don’t protect against noxious gases and very small particulates, but they’re readily available and may benefit those people who get symptoms when exposed to smoke.”

Stay updated

  • EPA AirWatch – The Environment Protection Authority Victoria provides regularly updated information regarding Victoria’s air quality
  • VicEmergency – VicEmergency provides real-time warnings of bushfires and developments in air quality
  • CFA Twitter – The CFA Twitter account also provides real-time updates on bushfires and developments in air quality

Staying updated on conditions is essential and local media also provides a great way of staying updated on conditions as changes occur.

If possible, stay indoors away from the smoky conditions and seek urgent medical assistance by phoning 000 should you or anyone around you be having difficulty breathing.

Author

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