If you’re a serious athlete, or simply exercise to stay fit and healthy, you are naturally affected by the air you breathe. And if you work out near areas that experience back-burning, like many of us do, then your lungs could be getting an almighty hammering.
To help protect the lives of those living near the bush, the Rural Fire Service must practise controlled burning of the bushland. We all know that and we accept that it’s necessary. However, the downside is that many of us risk inhaling smoke over a few months each year as the weather warms up.
Smoke from a bushfire is a mixture of various-sized particles, water vapour and gases, including carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The larger particles you can see are what contribute to the visible haze when a fire is burning. These are generally too large to be breathed deeply into your lungs but they can certainly cause irritation. The finer microscopic particles and gases, however, are small enough to be breathed deep into the lungs and can affect your health.
SIGNS OF SMOKE IRRITATION
In healthy adults, the signs may include:
- itchy eyes
- sore throat
- runny nose
You will usually find these symptoms quickly disappear once you are away from a short exposure to smoke.
SIGNS YOU MAY NEED MEDICAL ASSISTANCE
Children, the elderly, smokers and people with preexisting illnesses, such as heart or lung conditions (including asthma), can suffer the above symptoms, plus:
- chest tightness
- difficulty breathing
It’s extremely important that these people follow any prescribed health plans religiously, and seek further assistance if their symptoms appear to be getting worse.
If you or anyone you come across has difficulty breathing or chest pain, you should seek urgent medical assistance by calling 000.
WHAT TO DO IF IT’S SMOKY OUTSIDE
The simple answer is: don’t exercise outside. Instead, head to the gym or complete your work-out indoors, if possible. You might think you can just pop a bandana or handkerchief over your nose and mouth while you’re out on a run, but these, along with dust masks (unless they are special P2 masks worn correctly) do not filter out the fine particles from smoke and so aren’t all that useful in protecting your lungs.
Other things you can do to protect your health include the following.
- If you are at home, ensure the doors and windows are tightly sealed to prevent smoke entering. You may want to pop a wet towel across the base of any drafty doors or windows.
- If you are operating an air-conditioner while it’s smoky outside – at home or in the car – it’s a good idea to switch it to ‘recycle’ to reduce any smoke coming inside.
- If you suffer from asthma or any other lung condition, consider staying with a friend or relative outside the smoke zone until the smoke dies down.
- Increase your intake of antioxidants. Although your body produces its own antioxidants, you may not receive enough to combat the daily stress your body is subjected to following exposure to pollutants. To help your body fight harmful free radicals, boost your intake of antioxidant-rich fruits such as cherries, pomegranates and blueberries, as well as red and green leafy vegetables.
HOW TO PLAN AHEAD
If you know when and where the fires are taking place, then you can be much better prepared, both in relation to your health and when it comes to planning your work-outs.
On its website, the NSW Rural Fire Service lists all of the dates and areas where hazard reductions will be happening: view the list, here. The site also features a handy ‘Fires Near Me’ map showing where all fires in the state are occurring – hazard reductions as well as general bushfires. Take a look at the map.