Last updated on 07/05/2020

With winter comes the use of indoor and outdoor wood fires, hazard reductions burns and an increase in poor air quality, so what does that mean for people with asthma…

Asthma and wood fires

As we are now well versed in how bushfire smoke and poor air quality can cause problems for people with asthma, we enter the colder season where wood fires and wood-fire smoke become a serious trigger for people with asthma.

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 air flow 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.

Maintaining asthma prevention throughout winter

Maintaining asthma prevention throughout winter can help to avoid an increase in asthma symptoms from the start.

Ensuring ongoing asthma prevention is the best way to maintain healthy lung function and reduce the impacts of the condition.

Ahead of winter, people with asthma should commit to their written Asthma Action Plan and follow the day-to-day requirements for preventer and reliever medications, even when they are feeling well.

If they do not have a written Asthma Action Plan, they should complete one with the assistance of a medical professional.

For people with asthma to breathe and live freely, prevention this winter is the best strategy.

To speak with an Asthma Educator, call 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462) or book a call back via our website.