Bushfire season has hit Australia, and it has been particularly devastating at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. While hundreds of houses, thousands of hectares of land, and many species of fauna and flora have suffered devastation, the bushfire smoke is affecting your health too. What can you do about the health impact of bushfire smoke?
Hot and dry weather conditions, combined with lack of rain, will likely imply the smoke to hang around. The air quality was poor, as the density of the smoke was polluting the air. This posed a hazard to those who suffer from a chronic lung or heart condition that affects their breathing.
For people with asthma, COPD, a chronic lung condition or a special heart disease - they’ll be painfully aware of this. This is also the case for many young children and elderly individuals.
How extreme were these bushfires? The NSW Ambulance has been running non-stop to assist in call-outs related to respiratory problems. It doesn’t matter if the fires weren’t in your direct vicinity - a fire as far as 50 km away can make breathing difficult for those with a chronic medical condition. That’s why everyone needed to take precautions to ensure their lungs were protected. For those with asthma, they needed to face the bushfire season with an actionable plan.
What are the symptoms caused by bushfires?
There are a few common symptoms that are typically experienced, proving how severely bushfire smoke can impact your health, but that’s not to say these are the only symptoms.
If your body is not getting enough air due to the high smoke content, you may experience other symptoms too. If you find yourself breathing too heavily, or if you become very dizzy, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
Look out for these fire smoke health symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- sore throat
- chest pain
- burning pain in the eyes
- inflamed sinuses
Tips to prevent your respiratory health from declining during bushfires
Though the air quality will remain poor over the next coming months, below are some ways that you can secure your health and keep breathing with ease.
> Avoid going outside
If you are within 50 km of the fires, the fire department advises to avoid going outdoors in order to minimise your exposure to the smoke. Prevent the contaminated air from entering your home by closing the windows. This is especially important for people who are at-risk - young children, elderly folks, and those who have conditions like asthma, COPD or a heart condition, which can really trigger fire smoke health symptoms.
Make sure to keep up-to-date on the status of the fires. Radio broadcasts, reports from local authorities, and mobile apps can give you live updates. Many of these platforms will also give you reports on the air quality.
Inside the house, you can keep the contaminant levels in the air to a minimum by changing a few of your usual habits;
- Run the air conditioner and opt to use on ‘recirculation mode’ to ensure the air in your home is filtered and reused. This prevents the need to open windows.
- Avoid lighting candles, using the fireplace, and lighting a fire, cooking on gas, or any other activity that requires an open flame.
- It is also helpful to avoid strenuous activities - and vacuuming is included in that consideration. Vacuuming also results in more particles being released into the breathable air. For this period, it is better to leave the particles resting on the floor undisturbed.
- If none of the above measures is helping, or if you do not have the necessary means to implement these measures, it may be best to leave the area until the fires are under control.
How to prepare for a bushfire?
Preparation is key - because prevention is better than cure. Despite the fires arriving so early in the season, it is possible to have the necessary tools in your home in advance. Make sure to have a good P2 facemask that will reduce the inhalation of fine particles.
If you suffer from chronic medical conditions, you should have an emergency kit on hand at all times anyway - especially during this hazardous and smokey season.
That said, preparing isn’t always easy when you don’t know exactly what you may need ahead of time. These basic steps are easy to follow, and they will ensure you have the essentials readily available.
The bonus? Most of them are easy and practical to carry with you. That means you can keep them at hand wherever you go (or at least in the car where they’re accessible).
If you have a heart or lung conditions, these steps could be a lifesaver:
Keep a good supply of medication and the necessary daily living aids alongside an emergency top-up. That means you need at least five days’ worth, or more, if possible. You can always bring this up with your healthcare provider and mention that you are trying to build up an emergency store - you may need an increased dosage on your prescription once off.
Build up a decent emergency kit containing the relevant medications you may need (and their correlating prescriptions) and assistive health devices. This should include a nebuliser with its refills, relief and prevention inhalers, and other necessary lung aids.
Heart condition patients should have the necessary equipment to monitor their pulse rate and blood pressure. Also, ensure you have the needed assistive heart health devices. The numbers in your readings may increase due to lowered oxygen levels, but if there is a sharp spike or, if the levels continue to rise, seek medical assistance. Remember, in an emergency, dial triple 0.
Drink lots of water and keep your body calm and still. Exerting yourself will cause feeling out of breath - you want to keep your body’s oxygen demand minimal.
Protect yourself during clean-up of the bushfires
The risk is not out of the air when the cleanup time arrives. The smoke continues to hang in the air even when we aren’t as sensitive to its smell, and it can still irritate the lungs. Ash which is often swept and released into the air is also harmful as breathed in. Wear a facemask during the clean-up if you are outdoors, and keep those who are sensitive away from ash. Wash your clothes thoroughly after exposure.
Bettercaremarket has more blogs related to the bushfire and the difficulty of breathing: