Heart Foundation Chief Medical Adviser, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings, said bushfire smoke contains harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, and very small particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs.
Professor Jennings said if smoke particles cross from the lungs into the bloodstream, it can contribute to inflammation and narrowing of blood vessels, as well as increasing the chance of blood clots, in vulnerable people. This can worsen pre-existing conditions like heart failure and high blood pressure and can trigger events such as heart attacks.
“If you have a condition such as heart failure, we urge you to try to minimise your exposure to bushfire fire smoke and pollutants.
“Australians at a higher risk should stay indoors where possible and safe, and close their windows and doors to minimise smoke in the home. If you have air-conditioning, switch it to recycle or recirculate to help filter particles from indoor air, and avoid being outdoors while smoke is in the area.
“In line with health department advice, we recommend that our Heart Foundation Walking Groups cancel any planned outdoor walks if they are in smoke or fire-affected areas, especially if the air quality is very poor or hazardous.”
Professor Jennings said: “Bushfire smoke may cause or aggravate symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath. It’s important to stay inside where possible, keep your medicines close at hand, and follow the advice of your doctor.
“Friends, relatives and carers should be extra watchful and check in regularly. “If you are worried about your symptoms, see your doctor or call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222.
“Most importantly, If you are having trouble breathing, or experience chest pain or tightness, you should seek immediate medical help by calling Triple Zero (000).”
Professor Jennings said Australia is likely facing similar risks to those experienced by people exposed to the Californian bushfires in 2015. “The Californian bushfires were linked with increased visits to emergency departments for heart events and conditions including heart attacks, heart failure and high blood pressure.”
To monitor bushfire smoke conditions and advice, the Heart Foundation advises people to visit the websites of their state or territory health department or emergency services agency.