New South Wales has suffered the worst fires in decades, and the smoke from the blazes is seeing an influx of patients suffering respiratory issues.
“We’re seeing about a 20 per cent increase in asthma presentations to hospitals and practices,” Australian Medical Association president Dr Steve Hambleton told Business Insider.
Air quality levels nearly 50 times worse than average were recorded in some Sydney suburbs earlier this week, according to information from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
“There are toxins in bushfire smoke which are a problem,” he said. “There are different sized particles … carbon dioxide, carbon monoxides and nitrogen oxides.”
Several fires are still causing havoc across NSW, with massive blazes burning across hundreds of square kilometres since last Thursday.
More than 200 homes have been destroyed, and two people have been killed. One man died from a heart attack while defending his Blue Mountains home, and another — a pilot — was killed when his fire-fighting plane crashed.
With many fires still active, Hambleton said anyone with existing heart and lung conditions should consider staying indoors or seeking shelter in a more well-ventilated building such as a shopping centre.
“If you can see only 10 to 20 kilometres [into the distance] that is hazardous and you should not be outside exercising,” said Hambleton. “If it is less than a kilometre [of visibility] then that is serious, and no one should really be exposed to that.”
“We also need to think about kids in schools and whether they should be kept inside.”
Many patients are seeking medical attention for immediate symptoms such as sore throats, runny noses and itchy eyes. But Hambleton also said mental health problems can affect victims in the longer term.
Fine particles can irritate the lungs of healthy people, and be a serious risk to smokers, those with existing conditions as well as people who have been recently treated with radiotherapy.
Those with sinus conditions and allergies can also be susceptible due to the poor air quality.
Readings from 40 stations across NSW are used to create an air quality index. The typical reading for Sydney is 50, and some southern suburbs such as Campbelltown reported pollution readings on Monday as high as 2500.
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