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Protecting Yourself from Bushfire Smoke

Bushfires are creating smoky conditions across much of NSW and in the Hunter New England and Central Coast region it’s predicted that these conditions may continue for some time.

We all remember the catastrophic bushfire season of 2019/2020. At the time the smoke pollution covering Australia’s East coast could be seen from space.

Bushfires not only cause destruction. Bushfire smoke may affect human and animal health.


Why is bushfire smoke a health hazard?

Bushfire smoke is a mixture of gases and particulate matter that can cause irritation. Inhaling smoke can have various health effects, depending on the proximity to the fire and the duration and concentration of exposure.

Department of Health – Bushfire Smoke – General Information

Health effects of bushfire smoke


Heavy smoke exposure: Smoke inhalation

If you're very close to a fire, breathing in the smoke can have life-threatening consequences, leading to lack of oxygen, chemical irritation and swelling of airways. Symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath, headache, nausea and vomiting. Please seek immediate medical attention if you've been exposed to smoke and have difficulty breathing, a hoarse voice, prolonged coughing spells or mental confusion. In case of an emergency call Triple Zero (000).

More information: Smoke inhalation | Emergency Care Institute (ECI) (nsw.gov.au)

Mild to moderate smoke exposure

For most people affected, the bushfire smoke exposure is mild and may cause symptoms such as sore eyes, nose, and throat. However, prolonged exposure increases the risk of illness.

Children and people with pre-existing conditions such as:

  • asthma and other lung diseases such as COPD or Emphysema
  • heart disease
  • during pregnancy

may be of particular risk of being affected by bushfire smoke.

If you’re at greater risk of developing symptoms when affected by bushfire smoke, be prepared.

Speak to your GP about your individual risk profile and, if needed, make sure that you have appropriate medication at home. Follow your doctor’s advice.

More information:

Information for parents - Air quality (nsw.gov.au)

Bushfire response and recovery - Air quality (nsw.gov.au)

How can I avoid exposure to bushfire smoke and the associated health risks?

  • Monitor air quality and follow health messages:
  • Air quality concentration data - updated hourly | NSW Dept of Planning and Environment
  • Bushfire response and recovery - Air quality (nsw.gov.au)
  • Avoid vigorous outdoor activity.
  • Stay indoors. Keep doors and windows shut to keep the smoke out and air the house whenever the smoke clears.
  • Spend more time in air-conditioned places, such as cinemas, libraries, and shopping centres.
  • Use an appropriate air purifier with a HEPA filter. Note that air purifier performance must match the size of the room and the room must be well-sealed to achieve optimal results.
  • Avoid indoor sources of air pollution (cigarette smoke, incense, candles).
  • Face masks: Not effective: Cloth and surgical masks.
  • Effective: P2 / N95 respirators. Note that people with pre-existing conditions should only wear a N95 mask after consulting with their doctor if it is safe for them to do so.
  • Information on how to choose the right mask and fit check: P2 mask - Fact sheets (nsw.gov.au)

Small children should not wear a N95 respirator and should spend more time indoors.

More information: Protect yourself from bushfire smoke - Air quality (nsw.gov.au)

How do I prepare for the bushfire season

If you live in a fire prone area, be prepared. Check your local NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) fire ratings and evacuation orders regularly to stay up to date with your individual hazard situation.

Consider the following resources to bring your bushfire preparedness up to date:

More information on: Plan and prepare - NSW Rural Fire Service





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