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Protect yourself from bushfire smoke

19 Dec 2019


Bushfires are creating smoky conditions across much of NSW that may continue for some time. Smoke can affect people’s health and it is important for everyone to reduce exposure.

Smoke and health

Smoke contains fine particles and gases known to cause health effects. Smoke may cause relatively mild symptoms like sore eyes and cough, and can worsen chronic heart and lung conditions

Who is at greater risk from bushfire smoke?

  • People with heart disease, or lung diseases like asthma and emphysema.
  • Older adults, because they are more likely to have heart or lung disease.
  • Children, because they spend more time outdoors engaged in physical activity, have developing airways, and breathe more air relative to their body weight.
  • Pregnant women, because they may be more sensitive to the effects of smoke.

Steps to decrease risk

Follow your doctor’s advice about medicines and your asthma management plan. Keep your reliever medication close at hand. Consult your doctor if symptoms worsen.

Monitor air quality and follow health messages. Air quality information and health messages are available at NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment - Air Quality Index (AQI) data.

Avoid vigorous outdoor activity.

Spend more time indoors. Keep doors and windows shut to keep the smoke out. Open windows and doors whenever the smoke clears.

Spend time in air conditioned venues like cinemas, libraries and shopping centres.

Avoid indoor sources of air pollution like cigarettes, candles and incense sticks.

Other ways to reduce exposure

Some people use air purifiers and face masks to reduce their exposure to smoke. These devices have special requirements to be effective.

Air purifiers

Air purifiers with a high efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter are able to reduce the number of fine particles indoors. For an indoor air purifier to work well, the purifier must be matched to the size of the room it is in and the room must be well sealed.

Humidifiers, negative ion generators and odour absorbers do not remove fine particles.

Face masks

P2/N95 rated face masks can filter out the fine particles in smoke. To be effective, they must be fitted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and form a tight seal around the face. It can be difficult to maintain a tight seal, particularly for people with facial hair, so masks may provide a false sense of security.

Surgical and cloth masks don’t protect against smoke.

Wearing a P2/N95 face mask can make it harder to breathe and people with heart or lung problems should consult their doctor before using one. Anyone who has difficulty breathing, feeling dizzy, faint or has other symptoms while wearing a face mask should remove it and go to place with cleaner air quality.

Wearing a P2/N95 face mask, especially if a person is physically active or in a hot environment, may increase the risk of heat-related illness. Users should take periodic breaks from physical activity or, if possible, rest in a location with cleaner air quality.

Learn more about air pollution at NSW Health.