Lung Safety and Precautions Around Excess Smoke due to Fires

In addition to the increased risk of brush fires during dry and warm weather, Australia is currently experiencing catastrophic bush fires that can significantly impact respiratory health.

Summer is less than one month away and the dry and warm weather means there is an increased risk of bush fires. If you have NTM, bronchiectasis, COPD, or other related respiratory illnesses, please take extra precautions to look after yourself and be aware of the extra pollutants and smoke in the air.

It’s important to remain aware of and be vigilant about the risks to your health, and what you can do to protect yourself. Intense smoky conditions increase the risk of coughing, wheezing, reduced lung function, bronchitis, worsening asthma symptoms, and more.

It is recommended that you try to minimize your exposure to smoke and pollutants as they can penetrate deep into your lungs and irritate the airways.

To help protect yourself, you may want to consider the following:

  • Avoid physical activity outdoors while smoke is in the area.
  • Rest more frequently if needed.
  • Keep away from the areas where there is smoke present.
  • Keep windows and doors always closed to minimize smoke in your home, and keep fireplace dampers shut.
  • Air cleaning devices with HEPA filters also may provide added additional help to avoid soot and smoke indoors. Make sure you have at least one replacement filter in case it’s needed.
  • Switch your air conditioner (if you have one) to recycle or recirculate in your home and in your car. Have at least one replacement filter for your home air system.
  • Have a dust mask with you in case you need to be outdoors where it is smoky. Ordinary dust masks will not help when it comes to heavy smoke. Masks with a HEPA filter or an N-95 will filter out the damaging fine particles in wildfire smoke but ensure that they fit your face.
  • Most importantly – have an emergency/evacuation plan ready in the event of temporary relocation or loss of essential services (such as electricity) during fires or heavy smog.
  • Make sure you have all the medicines and instructions you need in one easily accessible bag, so you can gather them quickly.
  • Copies of your Asthma Action Plan or COPD Action Plan
  • Have an extra written prescription on hand or an extra prescription sent into the pharmacy electronically in case the medication is lost or destroyed.
  • Insurance card and healthcare provider contact information. (You can take a picture of your insurance card on your cell phone for a backup copy.)
  • Other essential documents or copies of them, including driver’s licenses and passports (again, you can take photos of them with your phone for backup copies).
  • Make sure you have cash on hand as well as credit cards.
  • If your lung disease symptoms worsen, seek medical attention immediately.

It’s been heartbreaking to watch the devastation that has unfolded across Australia. As the bush fire crisis continues, there are several ways you can assist those in need. The NSW Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) noted that while there are many ways you can help, “the best way is to donate money. This allows people to buy the things they need. We know many people want to donate physical items such as food and clothing but these take up much-needed community space.”

Here are some organizations you can donate to:

Australian Red Cross Disaster and Recovery Relief: The Red Cross supports a variety of efforts such as supporting people at evacuation centers and providing emergency assistance like cash grants to people who have lost their homes

NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES): An estimated 500 million animals have perished in the fires since September. WIRES rescue and cares for animals and is seeking donations for volunteer carers and rescuers that are “inundated” with them amid the bush fires.

NSW Rural Fire Service: Donations to the NSW Rural Fire Service directly benefit the volunteer firefighters on the front line. You can also donate directly to help the families of the firefighters who have perished in the line of duty.


This information compiled from Lung Foundation Australia

 And the American Lung Association.