Bushfire smoke

Smoke from bushfires, planned burns and other sources can impact air quality. Bushfire smoke contains toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and particles, all of which can be hazardous to your health. Small particles in smoke usually cause the most concern and  effects the  lungs ability to breath and can causes a sore throat, runny nose and coughing. For healthy adults these effects usually disappear quickly once they move away from the smoky conditions. People with heart or respiratory conditions (including asthma) are more sensitive to the effects of breathing in smoke, as fine particles can aggravate these conditions, causing symptoms at lower smoke levels.

Farmers and agricultural workers are at risk of respiratory hazards; increasing their risk of respiratory conditions. For those farmers who already have compromised respiratory function, exposure to smoke from fires can exacerbate symptoms.

If you are a farmer or agricultural worker and suffer from a lung condition like asthma, or a heart condition like angina, you are more likely to be affected by smoke from bushfires. To prevent exacerbation of symptoms – Stay indoors if possible when there is bushfire smoke around your farm. Be aware of any planned burns in your area as the smoke has the same negative effects as smoke from a bushfire.

If you can’t stay indoors and you need to be actively involved Wear a P2 dust mask which has been properly fit tested. Note: a P1 dust mask handkerchiefs or bandannas do not filter out fine particles from smoke and will not protect your lungs from smoke. If you have a lung or heart condition and on prescribed medication, make sure you take your medication and ensure you have enough medications for several days in case you can’t re stock you supply easily.

It is important to note that whilst a P2 dust mask will protect you from smoke, it can make it more difficult to breathe.  If you do have a lung/ medical condition, you should seek medical advice about wearing a mask long before you actually need them.

The small particles in smoke will also irritate and cause sore, itchy eyes. Wearing a non-ventilated goggle or a smoke visor/goggle combination will protect and assist with visibility.

It is crucial you remove yourself from smoke, seek medical help or Call triple (000) if you start to experience the following:

  • difficulty breathing
  • coughing
  • chest tightness
  • chest pain
  • palpitations
  • fatigue

Find out more about this topic on Better Health Channel

References used for this topic page

More information:

Asthma Foundation


EPA Victoria

Effects of smoke

Department of Health (Vic)

Bushfire and public health

Department of Health and Human Services

Bushfire smoke and your health

NSW Health

Bushfire smoke

Research & reviews:

Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council

Assessing firefighters’ exposure to air toxics in bushfire smoke [PDF 333kb]

Medical Journal of Australia

Exposure to bushfire smoke and asthma: an ecological study [PDF 833kb]

Fast facts:

Bushfire smoke

  • Bushfire smoke can affect your health, especially if you have lung or heart conditions.
  • When bushfires are around, keep outdoor activities to a minimum where possible.
  • Remember even after the fire has gone smoke irritation and particles and gases can affect you over the following days.
  • Seek medical advice if you have chest pain or breathing problems.

Last updated: 18th January, 2019