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Smoke and your health

Smoke and your health

Smoke from fires can increase air pollution in rural and urban areas, and exposure to smoke can affect you and your family's health. Watch our Smoke and your health video to learn how smoke can impact the body.

Smoke particles can get right down deep into your respiratory system and hang out in your lungs

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 and long-term health effects. 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, the length of time you are exposed to the smoke and the concentration of the smoke. 

Children (up to 14), adults over 65, smokers, pregnant women, and people with a heart or lung condition, or diabetes are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke. Their symptoms can be worse at lower smoke concentrations compared to other people.

Some signs of short-term smoke irritation such as itchy eyes, sore throat, runny nose and coughing usually clear up in healthy adults once they’re away from the smoke.

Fireman with message box explaining when to seek medical advice if experiencing smoke expsosure symptoms

Take action

How to check air quality in your area

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) provides information and advice on air pollution levels. You can find information about air pollution in your local area on the EPA AirWatch or visit  VicEmergency for information on fires near you.

How to protect your health from smoke

There are simple steps you can take to avoid smoke and protect your health.

  • Check and follow any emergency warnings associated with threats from fires.
  • If you are not under threat from a fire, avoid breathing in smoke by staying inside with the windows and doors closed until outdoor air quality is better.
  • Try to reduce your exposure to smoke whenever possible.
  • People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, including asthma, should take their medication, follow their treatment plan and seek immediate medical advice if symptoms such as difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest occur.
  • When there’s a break in the smoke, open your windows and doors to get rid of any smoke inside the house.
  • Keep the air inside your home as clean as possible. You can use a split system, reverse cycle or refrigerated air conditioner. If it has a ‘fresh air’ function, make sure it is switched off. Do not use evaporative air conditioners if it’s smoky outside. Reduce activities that affect indoor air quality, like smoking cigarettes, burning candles or vacuuming.
  • Keep track of smoky conditions and schedule outdoor activities for periods when air quality is good or exercise indoors with air-conditioning. Reduce physical activity if you develop symptoms like cough or are short of breath more than usual.
  • 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.
  • Use an indoor air cleaner, if you have one, that has a high efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter and is the right size for the room.
  • Look out for kids, older people, and other people at risk.
  • If you are concerned about symptoms seek medical advice or call NURSE-ON-CALL on Tel. 1300 606 024.
  • If you or anyone in your care has trouble breathing or tightness in the chest, call 000 for an ambulance.

Contacts and translations

Download the VicEmergency app

VicEmergency app

Download the Vic Emergency app and set up a 'watch zone' for your location to receive advice and warnings about emergency events around you.

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Reviewed on: 09-12-2021