This year Queensland faced the most severe and challenging fire conditions before the official fire season even began. The goal of our brave firefighters was to protect lives, property and animals by reducing these fires. However, adverse health impacts from exposure to fires can be greatly overlooked in all the chaos.
Why can smoke exposure have negative health impacts?
The principle concern of smoke exposure, particularly in bushland fires, is related to the number of components and small particles from a mixture of burning plants and trees. If inhaled, these gases and fine particles can pose the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning particularly to nearby residents and firefighters. The extent of damage can depend on the length of time a person may be exposed, the concentration of smoke and oxygen in the air, as well as the amount breathed in and a person’s current health status.
What are the symptoms?
When experiencing the aftereffects of being exposed to smoke caused by fires, there are often a variety of symptoms that may be identified. Symptoms of smoke exposure include:
- Eye, nose and throat irritation
- Persistent coughing or wheezing
- Watery or dry eyes
- Tightness or pain in your chest
- Weakness and fatigue within muscles
- The exacerbation of asthma attacks
- Lung irritation or shortness of breath.
While these symptoms are indicators of harmful exposure to smoke, more serious health impacts may also transpire. People who suffer from chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases are among those who may be identified as more vulnerable as it is possible that smoke exposure can worsen and aggravate existing conditions.
Who is most at risk?
Whether you’re healthy or not, the effects of smoke exposure can be experienced by anyone. Children and elderly residents tend to be considered more vulnerable to negative health consequences as both demographics have weakened or immature immune systems that are not as strong as those at peak health. This is also the case for pregnant women. Similarly, due to compromised lung function smokers are also considered at risk. People who suffer heart conditions, asthma, lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema are at greater risk of harmful symptoms.
Steps to Reduce Exposure:
During heightened warnings and sever fire seasons there are several ways to reduce exposure to dangerous smoke. Here are some tips to protect your health and well-being during a bushfire:
- Ensure that you limit your participation in outdoor activities particularly, those involving deep and rapid breathing
- Keep doors and windows close wherever possible
- When driving keep windows closed and ensure air conditioning is set to re-circulate
- Utilise high-efficiency air-cleaning filters (HEPA), such as air-conditioners, and set them to re-circulate to keep cool and reduce air pollution
- Avoid cigarette smoke
- Reduce or completely avoid air pollution by not burning any woodstoves, candles or smoking tobacco
- Keep a close watch over individuals that may be at greater risk to negative health impacts from exposure
- Keep up to date with local forecasts, warnings and reports within your area regarding fire conditions
As we approach the official fire season, it is important to seek medical advice if you or your family members experience any of the symptoms of smoke exposure.