The Australian bushfires have been a subject of international reports recently, and the devastation caused by these fires is significant. Beyond the natural destruction, it is important that individuals living in regions affected by the bushfires are aware of the health risks posed by these fires so that they can take necessary precautions to keep themselves safe.
The smoke from these bushfires are largely the cause of these health risks, and in some areas of Australia, it has been announced that the levels of air pollution caused by bushfire smoke have reached the degree of a public health emergency.
Inhaling smoke from the bushfires can cause a number of common effects. For the most part, these are not life-threatening, but with prolonged exposure, the detriments can be lasting. Generally, inhaling smoke will cause soreness and irritation in the nose, throat, and eyes. For individuals with conditions like asthma, angina, or emphysema, the impact of smoke inhalation can be more severe and cause a flare-up or attack. Individuals with conditions like those mentioned should stay indoors as much as possible and always carry the appropriate medication with them.
Smoke contains small particles which can aggravate respiratory issues, especially in those with existing conditions. When it comes to bushfire smoke, the concentration of said particles can become extremely high, resulting in increased cases of breathing complications even in healthy individuals. These particles are remarkably small, and when inhaled, they can cause damage to the circulatory and respiratory systems. It is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) that air pollution is a leading cause of premature death around the world, and prolonged exposure to particles like PM2.5, which has been found in the bushfire smoke, can have a significant detrimental impact on health and livelihood.
In the middle of this past December, nearly double the average of patients were admitted to Sydney hospitals with breathing problems. On that same day, it was determined that the air quality was 11 times above what is considered hazardous. Because of the bushfires, hospitals in Australia have seen a significant increase over the past month or so in patients admitted with respiratory issues.
So far, the air quality in Australia has been growing worse as the bushfires persist. On its worst day to this point, the air quality index (AQI) in Sydney reached 669; when inhaled throughout the day, the effects of this air quality can have similar effects as one would experience should they smoke 30 cigarettes in a single day. Short-term effects of air pollution may be minimal, but continued exposure and inhalation can result in decreased quality of life as well as overall lifespan.