Bushfire smoke can reduce air quality, not just in the rural areas but in the city, too. But there are actions you can take to avoid or reduce potential health effects.
Fact No. 1 Bushfire smoke is a mixture of different-sized particles, water vapour and gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The larger particles 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 your nose and throat.
Fact No. 2. Finer microscopic particles and gases in bushfire smoke are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs and can cause health problems.
Fact No. 3. How smoke affects you depends on your age, existing medical conditions such as asthma or heart disease, and the length of time you are exposed to the smoke.
Fact No. 4. Signs of smoke irritation include itchy eyes, sore throat, runny nose, coughing and wheezing. Children, the elderly, smokers and people with pre-existing illnesses such as heart or lung conditions (including asthma) are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in fine particles. Symptoms may worsen and include wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing.
Fact No. 5. When smoke is in the air, but a fire is not directly threatening you, stay indoors and close all windows and doors.
Fact No. 6. If you operate an air conditioner during smoky conditions, switch it to ‘recycle’ or ‘recirculate’ to reduce smoke coming inside your home.
Fact No. 7. 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 masks (called ‘P2’) filter bushfire smoke, providing a greater protection against inhaling fine particles. They are available at most hardware stores.
If you live in Victoria, download this app http://www.cfa.vic.gov.au/plan-prepare/fireready-app/