Australia’s unprecedented bush fire crisis has devastated many small towns and rural communities. Fire and smoke are the immediate risk in bush fire areas, but pollution levels have also soared in places beyond the immediate fire zone. The smoke haze blanketing some cities has stretched as far inland as Broken Hill. At one point the smoke even reached New Zealand.
Is smoke haze hazardous?
Yes, according to the Australian Medical Association (AMA) President, Dr Tony Bartone. He says we should be taking extra precautions. ‘With denser smoke haze and longer periods that people endure smoke inhalation, there is a much higher risk that previously healthy people will face developing serious illness.’
Why is it dangerous?
Smoke haze contains microscopic particles that can enter the lungs. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are more at risk, as well as people who already suffer from asthma or any form of respiratory disease.
People with heart disease or cardiac risk factors like high blood pressure should also be cautious because the microscopic particles can irritate the cardiovascular system, constricting blood vessels and increasing the chance of a heart attack.
Those with no pre-existing heart or lung conditions are not automatically immune. If you develop breathlessness, wheeziness, a tight chest or a persistent cough the AMA recommends you seek medical attention immediately.
How can I reduce the risk?
Check air pollution levels for your area. On days when levels are high, or when you can see or smell smoke, take preventative measures.
- Carry any medication with you at all times.
- Avoid exposure wherever possible.
- Limit the time you spend outdoors.
- Avoid engaging in strenuous outdoor activities.
- If you’re caught outside, seek shelter in a modern building with air conditioning.
- If you have recirculating air conditioning at home, close all doors and windows and switch it on.
- Air purifiers with HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters can help clean the air inside your house, although they can be expensive.
- Most modern vacuum cleaners are fitted with a HEPA filter. Vacuum regularly to remove dust and smoke particles that may have settled.
Should I wear a face mask?
If you’re going to wear a face mask, make sure it’s one that works and is correctly fitted. Only certain masks are effective against smoke pollutants. Paper masks (the kind you often see dentists wearing) won’t offer protection against smoke. Look for masks labelled P2 N95 or P100. Your local pharmacy or hardware store may stock them.
The label refers to the percentage of small particles the mask can filter. N95 can filter 95 percent and P100 can filter an impressive 99.7 percent of particles.
Make sure the mask forms a tight seal against your face so there are no air gaps around the side.
Masks may not fit correctly on small children. The best advice is to avoid exposure.
We’re here to help
If you or anyone you know has been affected this bush fire season, seek help from your GP in the first instance and know that CBHS can offer support through the CBHS Better Living programs and the Best Doctors Mental Health Navigator.
Call us on 02 9685 7567 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to see if your cover qualifies you for either of these programs.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.