Breathe Easy

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Go Mag | Go Vita | Lung health | Australian bushfires

The recent bushfires have caused widespread poor air quality, which can harm health. Are you at risk?

It is well established that air pollution can cause heart and lung problems; now research has discovered a link between bushfire smoke and heart attacks. Here is what you need to know.

How does bushfire smoke affect you?

Bushfire smoke is comprised of water vapour, small particles and gases, including carbon monoxide. Common effects of exposure are itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, a runny nose and coughing. However, the smaller and finer the particles in the smoke, the more damaging their effects. For example, particles less than 2.5 microns in aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5) can reach lung alveoli, negatively affecting cardiovascular and respiratory function.

Who is most at risk?

  • People with pre-existing heart or lung conditions, like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema and bronchitis;
  • pregnant women;
  • the elderly, and
  • young children

University of Tasmania environmental health expert Fay Johnson adds that if you can see or smell smoke, then you should minimise your exposure, particularly if you are in the high-risk group.

What can you do?

Stay indoors, or leave the area. Use an air conditioner or portable air filter. Avoid outside physical activity.

Omega-3 fatty acids (2-3 grams per day) have a natural anti-inflammatory effect. Smoke causes inflammation via oxidative damage so as well as omega-3s antioxidants such as vitamins C and E can be helpful.

In an air polluted environment, a healthy diet with adequate intake of essential micronutrients (including B vitamins, vitamins C, E and D) may be critical to reduce the risk of lung disease.

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