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Bushfire smoke and your health


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Bushfire smoke can reduce air quality in rural and urban areas and may affect people’s health.

This page provides information on bushfire smoke, how it can affect you and your family’s health, and actions you can take to avoid or reduce potential health effects.

For information about a specific fire or emergency incident, listen to your local emergency radio station for updates or visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au

If you are at the scene of an emergency, always follow the directions of emergency services, such as ambulance officers, police or fire services.

Key points about bushfire smoke and your health

  • Bushfire smoke is a mixture of differently sized particles, water vapour and gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
  • Fine particles and gases in bushfire smoke are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs and can cause health effects.
  • For regular updates on what you should do, listen to your local emergency radio station or visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au
  • People with a heart or lung condition, including asthma, children (up to 14 years), pregnant women and people over 65 years of age are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.
  • If you have a heart or lung condition, take your medication as prescribed. Asthmatics should follow their personal asthma action plan and keep reliever medication on hand.
  • If you or anyone in your care is experiencing symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure, call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24 or seek medical advice.
  • Anyone experiencing difficulty breathing, wheezing or tightness in the chest should seek urgent medical assistance – call 000.

Further information

Vic Emergency

For more information about specific incidents and emergencies go to: www.emergency.vic.gov.au

Local emergency radio station

For current information about specific incidents and emergencies, listen to your local emergency radio station.

NURSE-ON-CALL

For immediate health advice from a registered nurse, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, call 1300 60 60 24.

Department of Health and Human Services

For more information on the health effects of smoke from a landfill fire, or rainwater tank water quality, call 1300 761 874 during business hours.

EPA Victoria

Information about air quality and other impacts of a fire on the environment is available from EPA Victoria on 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC).

Local government

Contact your local council for advice about rainwater tank water quality.

Q&A on bushfire smoke and your health + Expand all Collapse all

  • What is in bushfire smoke?

    Bushfire smoke is a mixture of different-sized particles, water vapour and gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

    The larger particles which are visible to the eye contribute to the visible haze when a fire is burning. They are generally too large to be breathed deeply into the lungs but can irritate the nose and throat.

    Finer microscopic particles and gases are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs and can cause health effects.

  • How can bushfire smoke affect my health?

    Bushfire smoke can reduce air quality in rural and urban areas and may affect people’s health.

    How smoke affects your health depends on your age, whether you have an existing medical condition, how active you are in smoky conditions and how long you are exposed to the smoke.

    People with a heart or lung condition, including asthma, children (up to 14 years), pregnant women and people over 65 years of age are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke.

    If you have a heart or lung condition, take your medication as prescribed.

    Asthmatics should follow their personal asthma action plan and keep reliever medication on hand.

    If you or anyone in your care experiences symptoms that may be due to smoke exposure, call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24 or seek medical advice.

    Call 000 if anyone is having difficulty breathing or is experiencing wheezing or tightness in the chest.
  • What can I do to protect my health from smoke during a bushfire?

    If you do not need to be in the area, stay away from a bushfire. Visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au for updates on air quality and other advice.

    If you live or work close to the fire and it is smoky, reduce physical outdoor exercise or heavy physical activity. People with an existing heart or lung condition should rest as much as possible.

    If you are not under threat from a fire, stay indoors away from the smoke where possible. Keep windows and doors closed.

    When indoors, minimise other sources of air pollution, such as cigarette smoke, burning candles, using unflued gas appliances or woodstoves or stirring up fine dust from sweeping or vacuuming.

    If it is hot and you operate an air-conditioner, switch it to ‘recirculate’ or ‘reuse air’. This limits the amount of smoke particles coming inside.

    If you do not have an air conditioner, take steps to reduce heat stress, especially for the very young, people who are unwell, or the elderly. Information on staying healthy in the heat is available at: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/campaigns/survive-the-heat

    If your home is uncomfortable, and it is safe to do so,  consider taking a break away from the smoke. Visit an area not affected by the smoke or visit a local air-conditioned building such as a library, community centre or shopping centre.

    If it is safe to do so, check on elderly neighbours or other people who you think might need extra help.

    During extended, very smoky conditions, sensitive individuals should consider temporarily staying with a friend or relative living outside the smoke-affected area. Outdoor sporting events may also be postponed by event organisers.
  • What about wearing a facemask?

    Ordinary paper dust masks, handkerchiefs or bandannas do not filter out fine particles from bushfire smoke and are generally not very useful in protecting your lungs.

    Special face masks (called ‘P2’ masks) filter bushfire smoke providing greater protection against inhaling fine particles. They are available at most hardware stores.

    However, before deciding to wear a mask you should understand that:

    • they can be hot and uncomfortable to wear they can make it harder for you to breathe normally. Anyone with a pre-existing heart or lung condition should seek medical advice before using them
    • if the seal around the face and mouth is poor the mask is much less effective (men should be clean shaven to get a good seal)
    • the masks do not filter out gases such as carbon monoxide
    • it is better to stay indoors, away from the smoke unless you cannot avoid working outdoors.
  • I am concerned about the health of my pets. What should I do?

    During smoky conditions, and if practical to do so, bring pets indoors with you.

    If you have any concerns about the health of your pets, consult your local vet.

  • I am concerned about the health of my animals. What should I do?

    If you have any concerns about the health of your animals, consult a vet or the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Customer Service Centre on 136 186.

  • What should I do around the home?

    If your house smells smoky and there is a break in the smoke, open the house to sunlight and fresh air, and air soft furnishings in the sunshine.

    Wipe down indoor surfaces with water. Wash any visible surface film with soap and water.

    If clothes were on the clothesline during smoky conditions, rewash them. If smoke is still present, dry clothes indoors or in a dryer.

Page last updated on 29 Dec 2017