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  • Writer's pictureDr Majella Soumakiyan

What do bushfires mean to your health?

Over the past few weeks we have heard about the horrendous stories about bushfires.

I stand at the reception and look outside from the Practice I see is smoke and haze over the horizons of Raby.

Bushfires have had implications not only to livelihood and property on our health. It can start with local effects such as burning eyes & runny nose. Fires produces macro (big) and micro ( small ) particles.

The macro particles are the ones that cause the haze. These due to their size, get trapped in the nose . The clever function of the tiny hairs in our nose prevents these particles reaching the lungs. Even though the lungs are protected, these macro elements can irritate the nose and throat and cause symptoms .

The microparticles on the other hand are not trapped by the nose. When reach the airways and lungs can cause irritation to the lung tissue and breathing pipes.

Apart from these particles, bushfire also contains toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrous oxide, vapour and water. These gases are harmful to our health.

Gases from bushfires and the risks

Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen circulated in our body by binding to haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the blood component that carries the oxygen around our body. It only takes 2.5% of haemoglobin to bind to carbon monoxide to cause health implications. In a healthy individual a small increase in carbon monoxide may result in lack of concentration, poor coordination and tiredness. But if there is already an underlying heart conditions it can cause angina ( chest pain ) and increases the risk of heart attacks. These small increases of carbon monoxide is dangerous to elderly, children and unborn babies .

Another harmful gas caused by bushfire is nitrous oxide . This can cause various symptoms such as nausea , vomiting, sleepiness and shivering.

Fire and smoke can also worsen lung conditions such as asthma and COPD ( chronic obstructive lung disease) .

If you have any symptoms or any underlying conditions it is important to seek medical advice.

When untreated this can lead to emergency admissions to hospital and potentially lead to other medical complications

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