Wood fires or burners are a common feature of the cooler months for many families across the country. But for people with asthma, smoke and poor air quality can be a trigger that can irritate their airways and lead to symptoms or asthma flare-ups.

The air quality inside a home is an important factor for people with asthma, who have airways that are more sensitive to air pollution and prone to inflammation.

Their ability to breathe freely can be affected by a range of triggers, including smoke and poor air quality from fine particles which enter deep into the lungs.

Fireplaces, wood stoves and unflued gas heaters in winter can result in people experiencing an increase in asthma symptoms.

REDUCING THE NEGATIVE IMPACT OF WOOD FIRES

If you do choose to have a wood fire, there are ways to minimise their impact on people with respiratory conditions. In some states, people have an obligation to do this.

Heaters must comply with the Australian Standards for smoke and they should be installed and maintained by a qualified practitioner.

Victoria’s EPA recommends the use of dry, seasoned, and untreated hardwood for the fire, without overfilling it.

After starting the fire with small kindling, they advise setting air controls to high to allow strong airflow for the first 20 minutes after every new log is added.

Smouldering fires overnight are not recommended as it generates more smoke and pollution.

WHAT DOES SMOKE AND POOR AIR QUALITY DO TO PEOPLE WITH ASTHMA?

Similar to the effects of bush fire, wood-fire smoke contains fine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs and cause inflammation.

This causes irritation of the airways, eyes and nose.

For people with asthma who already have sensitive airways, they can be the first to feel the effects and are more at risk.

Avoid wood fires and smoke if possible, if they are known triggers, as they can lead to less-controlled asthma and risk of symptoms and flare-ups.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER FORMS OF HEATING FOR PEOPLE WITH ASTHMA?

Alternative sources such as gas-fired heaters can also be problematic for some people with asthma.

Unflued gas heating can release nitrogen dioxide, which can be a trigger for some.

Health experts instead recommend electric heating, such as hydronic or radiant heaters, as they do not release emissions into the interior air.