Bushfire smoke and asthma
Bushfires can produce large extremely poor air quality and cause adverse effects to health and well-being of thousands of Australians. Bushfire smoke contains a fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These particles, are tiny in size and when inhaled are able to go deep into the lungs, cause inflammation and can enter the blood stream typically affecting the respiratory, cardiovascular and immune systems and does changes some metabolic functions.
Anyone can be affected by bushfire smoke, resulting in irritated airways, nose and eyes. But some groups are more vulnerable than others. Pregnant women, infants and children, older people and those living with respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular diseases like angina or heart failure. Source CAR – Centre of Air pollution, energy and health research
Key tips to minimise the effects of bushfire smoke:
1. Know your risks
Children, the elderly and people with respiratory conditions including asthma are the first to feel the effects of smoke and particle pollution. They need to take extra care. If you have asthma, or if you are responsible for a child or elderly person with asthma, be aware of the risk and be prepared.
2. Stay on top of your asthma management
If smoke is a known trigger for you or a loved one, it is recommended that you use a preventer during bushfire season or if you live near an area where hazard reduction burns are planned.
The risk of an asthma flare-up after exposure to smoke may be reduced by maintaining good asthma control. Find out more about your current asthma control by taking the Asthma Control Test or call the free 1800 ASTHMA service (1800 278 462) for personalised information and support.
Symptoms can occur for several days after smoke is inhaled, so people need to be aware of any signs or symptoms of their asthma worsening and follow their Asthma Action Plan. Seek emergency medical help if symptoms are severe.
3. Be Prepared
One of the most effective ways to minimise the effect of bushfire smoke for someone with asthma is to always be prepared, especially if you are in a high risk area. Some ways you can get prepared include:
- Make sure you have access to blue reliever medication and continue to use your preventer medication.
- Inform others around you that you experience asthma, and where they can access your blue reliever medication, written Asthma Action Plan or the Asthma First Aid plan.
- Ensure you have a fire plan in place.
- Monitor relevant websites, news sites and phone applications to stay informed about when planned burns are occurring in your area.
- Here are some SMS alert systems available for a range of emergencies:
4. Avoid Smoke
It is important to do the best you can to avoid smoke. Some ideas to do this include:
- When smoke is in the air, but a fire is not directly threatening you, stay indoors and close all windows and doors.
- Use air conditioner on recycle if available
- If in the car, close windows and use air conditioner, on recycle
- Avoid doing any physical activity outdoors.
- Consider moving to a public air conditioned space such as a library or shopping centre if smoke is too intense at home
- Portable air cleaners can be effective to provide refuge from hazardous smoke inside homes. They are only useful for use in isolated places and not a safeguard covering the whole house. Air cleaners are different to purifiers or filters but do use HEPA filters to filter the harmful particulates from the air.
If you feel you have taken in smoke, make sure you take action and help alleviate the damage. To do this, follow the following steps:
- If you develop symptoms such as coughing or wheezing, chest tightness or shortness of breath, follow your written Asthma Action Plan or commence Asthma First Aid.
- If your reliever medication isn’t reducing your asthma symptoms, call the ambulance and continue with the Asthma First Aid process until the ambulance arrives.
- For further information about managing your asthma contact 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462) to speak to an Asthma Educator today.
Bushfires and prescribed burns
Australia is one of the world’s most bushfire prone countries. Bushfires and burns implemented to reduce the risk or size of bushfires or for other reasons, known as ‘hazard reduction’ or ‘planned’ burns, are extremely hazardous for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions. People with asthma and carers looking after loved ones with asthma should be extra vigilant around bushfire season, as well as times when hazard reduction burns are planned.
For information about prescribed burns and bushfires visit your local fire service page.
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