Bushfires spark breathing concerns and asthma warning

Smoke pall over beach
The Tathra bushfire. Image: Kate Roberts via Twitter.

The National Asthma Council Australia is cautioning Australians that bushfires raging throughout the country are putting lives at risk from asthma

It is vital for anyone with asthma living in a bushfire zone to be prepared and on alert, the Council says.

Asthma Council Chief Executive, Siobhan Brophy, warned people with asthma that smoke from bushfires poses a severe danger to them, as well as people with other respiratory conditions.

“Bushfire smoke and increased air pollution can irritate lungs and cause breathing difficulties in people with asthma, children and the elderly,” she said.

“Anyone having breathing difficulties needs to take it seriously and act immediately.

“People with asthma should follow their asthma action plan (if they have one) and the first aid steps for asthma if needed. If your reliever isn’t helping or symptoms get worse, call an ambulance.”

She said it is important for people with asthma to continue using their preventer medication during bushfire events and to ensure they have their reliever medication with them at all times.

“You should also keep an extra reliever puffer and a copy of your written asthma action plan in your evacuation kit and make sure it goes with you if you need to leave suddenly,” she said.

People in areas not directly impacted by bushfires, including built-up areas, can also be at risk as winds can carry smoke and ash particles long distances, Ms Brophy warned.

“Unless you’re advised to evacuate, people with asthma in smoke-affected areas should stay indoors and close all windows, doors and air vents to prevent smoke entering their home.

“If you can’t prevent smoke from entering your home, consider staying with friends or going to a place where you will be less exposed to smoke, such as an air-conditioned library or shopping centre.

People with asthma are also advised to avoid keeping inhalers in the car glove box or other hot places, as heat can make the medication ineffective.

The comments followed a call yesterday to health professionals, warning of the danger of smoke from fires as well as wind warnings, thunderstorms and allergens such as grass pollen, in which the Council urged health professionals to talk to their patients with asthma about the risks.

Meanwhile, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians has cited the current fires and risk of fire as one reason for addressing climate change.

In a statement the RACP declared climate change as a national public health emergency and called on all Governments to take action.

“The declaration of a public health emergency coincides with a high number of emergency level bushfires burning in Australia, resulting in a tragic loss of life and property,” it said.

 “Increasing frequency and intensity of bushfires is one of the consequences of climate change that has long been warned about by our science agencies.

“The sheer extent of the current fires has led to hazardous levels of air pollution that is adversely impacting on the health of people in affected areas including two of our biggest cities.”

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