Asthma and Smoke

Cigarettes

Cigarette smoke makes asthma symptoms worse and stops preventer medicines from working fully. It has been linked with more asthma flare-ups and a higher risk of developing asthma in children. Smoking increases your risk of developing chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), lung cancer and accelerates decline in your lung function. People with asthma who smoke should quit as soon as possible.

Smoking is also dangerous for people around you. Children can be severely affected by inhaling secondhand-cigarette smoke. Exposure to smoke at home has been associated with onset of asthma as well as asthma symptoms. Older people and people with significant chronic health problems can also be quite vulnerable to secondhand cigarette smoke.

The harmful effects of traditional tobacco smoking are also relevant for e-cigarettes. People with asthma should avoid all smoking devices in order to best achieve good health and avoid the risks of poorly controlled asthma and long-term effects.

Although quitting can be difficult, there are many effective treatment options available which you can discuss with your doctor or pharmacist; you can find more information about asthma and smoking and where to get help by downloading this brochure. E-cigarettes have also been presented to enable smoking cessation yet there is currently insufficient evidence to support this.

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.

NSW: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/

Vic: https://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/home and https://www.ffm.vic.gov.au/

Qld: https://www.ruralfire.qld.gov.au/map/Pages/default.aspx

SA: https://www.cfs.sa.gov.au/site/warnings_and_incidents.jsp

ACT: http://esa.act.gov.au/community-information/incidents-map/

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.

  1. 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 Helpline (1800 ASTHMA 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.

  1. Be Prepared

Make sure you have access to blue reliever medication and continue to use your preventer medication as well.

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:

National: http://www.emergencyalert.gov.au/

Victoria: http://www.emergency.vic.gov.au/prepare/#where-do-i-get-information-in-an-emergency (download app)

  1. Avoid Smoke
  • 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. Suitable air cleaners can be found online.
  1. Avoid Smoke
  • 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 the 1800 ASTHMA Helpline (1800 278 462).