Smoke from fires can reduce air quality in rural and urban areas and exposure to smoke can affect your health. People over 65 (particularly those with heart or lung conditions, including asthma) are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke. There are actions you can take to avoid or reduce potential health effects.

The science of smoke

Illustration of two elders.

Why is smoke bad for your health?

Smoke is a mixture of particles, water vapour and gases. But fine particles called PM2.5 are the biggest health concern.

Fine particles can cause some short- or long-term effects on your respiratory or cardiovascular systems. These microscopic particles can be breathed deep into your respiratory system and lodge in your lungs. Breathing these fine particles deeply into the lungs can cause breathing problems and worsen pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

How smoke exposure affects you depends on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, and the length of time you are exposed to the smoke.

Adults over 65, people with a heart or lung condition, smokers, and pregnant women and children up to 14 years are more sensitive to the effects of smoke exposure. Their symptoms can be worse at lower smoke concentrations compared to other people.

Take action

Illustration of a firefighter.

How to protect your health from smoke

There are simple steps you can take to avoid smoke and protect your health, and those in your care.

  • If you are not under threat from a fire, avoid breathing smoke by staying inside with the windows and doors closed and reduce physical activity.
  • People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, including asthmatics, should take their medication, follow their treatment plan and seek immediate medical advice if symptoms such as breathing issues, wheezing or tightness in the chest persist.
  • Keep the air inside your home as healthy as possible. If you have an air conditioner, switch it to ‘recirculate’ or ‘re-use’ and reduce activities that affect indoor air quality, like smoking cigarettes, burning candles or vacuuming.
  • If your home is uncomfortable, take a break by visiting a friend or relative away from the smoke or visit an air-conditioned centre, like a library, shopping centre or cinema. Check that it’s safe to go elsewhere before leaving.
  • When there’s a break in the smoke, open your windows and doors to get rid of any smoke inside the house.
  • Look out for kids, older people, and other people at risk.
  • 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.

Getting help

Where to get help

Information about fires and air quality

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