Aussies warned bushfire smoke could aggravate heart problems

Jan 07, 2020
Smoke exposure can cause heart problems, or complicate existing ones. Source: Getty

Australia has suffered a devastating start to the new year with many parts of the country blanketed in thick smoke as fires rage on.

For most people, smoke causes mild symptoms like sore eyes, nose and throat. However, it can be more dangerous for people with pre-existing heart conditions.

The Heart Foundation is now urging older Aussies living with heart failure to stay inside as recent evidence suggests smoke exposure can cause heart problems, or complicate existing ones.

The Heart Foundation’s Chief Medical Advisor, cardiologist Garry Jennings, says bushfire smoke contains harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, and very small particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and end up in the blood stream. This can narrow the blood vessels and increase the chance of blood clots or heart attack in vulnerable people.

“If you have a condition such as heart failure, try to minimise your exposure to bushfire smoke,” Jennings warns.

He says the best way to reduce exposure to smoke is to stay indoors with the doors and windows shut. Switch your air conditioner (if you have one) to recycle or recirculate air to help improve air quality.

Jennings says bushfire smoke may also cause or aggravate symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

“If you’re worried about your symptoms, see your doctor or call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222,” he advises. “Most importantly, if you’re having trouble breathing, or experiencing chest pain and tightness, you should seek medical help immediately by calling Triple Zero (000).”

Meanwhile, paramedics in Victoria are dealing with an increase in Triple Zero calls from people with breathing problems.

“Yesterday we saw a 51 per cent increase in the number of people reporting breathing problems, and we think that’s largely due to smoke,” acting director of emergency management Justin Dunlop said on Tuesday.

“Breathing problems calls increased from an average of 187 per day to 282 on Monday, with a spike in the evening.”

If you’re in an area affected by smoke and poor air quality and suffer from a heart condition, here’s how to cope:

  • Stay indoors with the doors and windows shut
  • Switch your air conditioner (if you have one) to recycle or recirculate air
  • Avoid physical activity outdoors while smoke is in the area
  • In extreme cases, use a face mask or respirator to keep out pollution.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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