Smoke from slow combustion stoves, wood fires, burn offs and bushfires can cause breathing problems. Wood fire smoke can pollute the air with carbon monoxide – an invisible, odourless and tasteless gas that, once ingested, can cause confusion, headaches, fatigue, damage to the heart and brain, and death. Particles in wood fire smoke can irritate the eyes, throat, nose and respiratory system.
Wood smoke may also contain carcinogenic pollutants like benzene, butadiene, formaldehyde and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Exposure to these gases can severely hinder healthy development and damage the respiratory, nervous, reproductive and immune systems.
The effects of wood smoke exposure are typically short-term, with most healthy adults recovering quickly. Children, however, as well as elderly persons and individuals with a diagnosis or history of heart disease, lung conditions, diabetes, and high blood pressure, are particularly susceptible to smoke-induced breathing problems.
Exposure to wood smoke can occur:
Inside the home: wood heater, slow combustion stoves, outdoor smoke entering the house.
Outdoors: outdoor fires (at your own or neighbour’s home), burning off, bushfires.
Things to consider if you use a wood heater or wood stove:
- Operate it correctly and clean the flue or chimney regularly to minimise the amount of smoke produced.
- Only use good quality wood – make sure the wood is dry and has no paint on it. Try to use smaller logs rather than one large log.
- Leave a window partially open to let in fresh air and reduce the build-up of indoor pollution.
- Maintain a bright flame and never let your heater smoulder to ensure enough heat for complete combustion.
- Clean your chimney annually.
- Be aware of signs like drowsiness, an indication that carbon monoxide levels are high.
To find out more about woodfire smoke and breathing problems visit Better Health Channel
References used for this topic page
Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Woodheaters and Woodsmoke – air quality
Department of Health (Vic)
Smoke exposure due to seasonal planned burns may affect health
Better Health Channel
Wood fires and breathing problems
NSW Environment Protection Authority
Wood Smoke Reduction Program [PDF 2.4mb]
Wood burning heaters and your health
Research & reviews:
European Respiratory Journal
Wood smoke exposure and risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [PDF 194kb]
Woodsmoke health effects: a review [PDF 536kb]
Last updated: 5th May, 2020