Smoke from fires can reduce air quality in rural and urban areas and exposure to smoke can affect you and your family's health. People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions (including asthma) are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke, but there are actions you can take to avoid or reduce potential health effects.

The science of smoke

Illustration of heart, lung and asthma puffer.

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. 

People with a heart or lung condition, children (up to 14), adults over 65, smokers, and pregnant women 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Planning travel?

When planning a trip within Victoria during the summer months, always check the Vic Emergency website for possible warnings about bushfires or grassfires before and during your travels.

If you or someone in your care is particularly sensitive to smoke exposure:

  • pack any prescription medications you may require, ensuring you have enough for the duration of your trip
  • asthmatics should keep an inhaler on hand. Find out more about asthma and travel
  • avoid or minimise prolonged or heavy physical, outdoor activity.

Getting help

Information about fires and air quality

Related information

Bushfire smoke

Bushfire smoke can affect you and your family's health, and there are actions that you can take to avoid or reduce potential health effects.

Learn more

Planned burns

Smoke from planned burns can affect your health in different ways, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions and the length of time you are exposed to the smoke.

Learn more

Heart health & conditions

Coronary heart disease, cardiac arrest, infection and congenital or inherited genetic disorders can damage the heart. Lifestyle changes can help prevent heart disease.

Asthma

Asthma is a serious respiratory condition that causes difficulty breathing and can cause death.

Lung health & conditions

The lungs are part of our respiratory system. Along with the trachea, alveoli, bronchi and diaphragm, they help us breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. Lungs can be affected by infection or allergy or may puncture or collapse.