Smoke from bushfires may contribute to many health issues and may make existing conditions worse.
For most people, this is just temporary, but for some, it can be life threatening.
The smoke from bushfires contains small particles and toxic gases like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and cyanide. These particles are really irritating to the eyes, nose and throat and can penetrate into the lungs.
Exposure can cause shortness of breath, cough, runny nose, headaches, itchy eyes, and irritated sinus or throat.
It can worsen heart and lung conditions such as angina, asthma and emphysema, potentially leading to severe asthma attacks or heart attacks.
If you are having difficulty breathing, tightness of chest and palpitations, please seek medical help immediately.
Even healthy people can experience smoke related symptoms when air quality is poor. Most people do not suffer long term health effects, however there are several ways to reduce your exposure, and help recover if you have been exposed.
One thing to note is if you can smell smoke, you are breathing it. Obviously, the closer you are to a fire front, the thicker it will be, but the wind can carry the smoke hundreds of kilometres away and can be problematic for anyone in its path. There are reports that people in New Zealand are experiencing breathing issues from the Australian bushfire smoke!
To decrease your risk of breathing in bushfire smoke:
- Avoid exercise outdoors.
- Stay indoors whenever possible with the doors and windows shut. Opening up the house to clear the smoke, once it is safe to do so (this is assuming it has been deemed safe for you to stay in your location and not evacuate)
- Invest in an air purifier with a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) filter and keep it on.
- Choose to spend time in public venues that are air-conditioned, like libraries, cinema and shopping centres.
- Use a facemask with a P2/N95 rating to filter out fine smoke particles. Be aware that using these types of face masks may make breathing more difficult and people with asthma, heart conditions, etc., should only use them for short amounts of time when absolutely necessary. Use the other options and stay inside instead.
- In the car keep the windows up and have your air on recirculate. If you have driven through heavy smoke, you may need to change the air and cabin filters.
To support recovery after bushfire smoke exposure:
- Clear your sinuses with nasal irrigation. Use a neti pot or a saline nasal spray and clear your sinuses to improve coughing, sneezing, and irritation of the nose, and throat.
- Steam inhalation. The warm, moist air relives sinus and throat irritation. Add a drop of eucalyptus or thyme oil to really clear out the airways.
- Reduce mucous producing foods like dairy while you are improving your lung health.
- Halo therapy. Inhaling fine salt particle deep into your lungs promotes the clearance/thinning of mucous and can help the clear out of toxins that may accumulate in your lungs due to smoke inhalation. Check out our brand new salt room to enjoy halo therapy for yourself.
- Water. We need to drink lots of filtered water to eliminate any toxins that have entered your body from smoke exposure. Flushing them out by drinking 2-3L of water is a great place to start.
- Vitamin C. A great antioxidant, vitamin C helps your body detoxify. Increase your dietary intake by eating lots of citrus, strawberries, capsicum, and pomegranate. Add in a good vitamin C supplement, to your tolerance, to boost your immunity and support detoxifying.
- Eat more sulphur foods. Foods that contain sulphur compound support your liver function, and it will be working overtime trying to get rid of the toxic gases that have been inhaled when exposed to smoke. Include plenty of the following vegetables: broccoli, kale, cabbage, onion, garlic, beetroot, ginger, barley grass and wheat grass.
- Take slippery elm. The bark of this tree contains compounds called mucilage that, you guessed it, make everything slippery. This lines the gastrointestinal tract and helps moisten your throat and GI tract.
- Vitamin B12. There is a very real risk of cyanide toxicity when exposed to bushfire smoke. Symptoms can include metallic taste, confusion, headache, fatigue, fast heart rate, raid breathing and nausea. Late stage symptoms include vomiting, kidney failure, convulsions and coma. Using B12 in the form of hydroxocobalamin If you have been at the fire front and had severe smoke exposure, or if you are having any of the above symptoms, please seek professional medical assistance, as you will need IV treatment. However, for a relatively healthy person with mild smoke exposure that isn’t experiencing any of the above symptoms, utilising supplemental hydroxocobalamin might be a good addition to your recovery protocol. We can help guide you with the right supplement and dose for you if you wish to make an appointment with one our Newcastle Naturopaths.
- Antioxidant supplements. If you have any smoke exposure, your body is under a lot of oxidative stress right now. This can be damaging to DNA and place a lot of stress on your liver. Support it with glutathione or N-Acetylcystiene. When you breathe in toxins, your body’s glutathione levels drop, so supporting it with supplemental glutathione, or its precursor NAC, will increase your livers ability to clear toxins.
- Herbal Tea. Drinking hot drinks will help soften up mucous and clear it out. Even more so if you use herbs that are linked with supporting coughs and colds. Mullein, thyme, marshmallow, ginger, and Echinacea.
- Manuka honey. Help soothe your battered throat by making a tea of lemon and ginger and adding Manuka honey. It is antibacterial, and can help reduce inflammation. Eat it by the spoonful if you are really hoarse and sore.
Take care of yourself and get looked over if you aren’t feeling right. Let us help you recover quicker and support you to get back to your healthy self.