Bushfires are creating smoky conditions across much of NSW and they may continue for some time. Smoke can affect children’s health and it is important to think about ways to reduce their exposure.

Smoke and health

Smoke contains fine particles and gases known to cause health effects. Smoke generally causes relatively mild symptoms like sore eyes and cough, but can worsen asthma.

Children are more vulnerable to the effects of smoke because they spend more time outdoors engaged in physical activity, have developing airways and breathe more air relative to their body weight. Children with asthma may be more sensitive to smoke.

Steps to decrease the risk

  • Identify children who have diagnosed asthma.
    • Ask parents to provide staff with their child’s up to date written asthma first aid instructions, completed by the child’s GP i.e. The NSW Health Schools and Child Services Action Plan for Asthma Flare Up.
    • Remind parents to leave the child’s reliever medication and spacer with staff and check that it is in-date.
    • Promote good asthma control by encouraging parents to seek review with their child’s GP to assess their child’s current asthma management and to have their individual Asthma Action Plan
  • Monitor air quality and follow health messages. Air quality information and health messages are available at NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment - Air Quality Index (AQI) data.
  • Allow children to spend more time indoors on days that are visibly smoky. Please refer to guidance on smoke and outdoor activities.
  • Keep doors and windows shut during smoky periods but open them again whenever the smoke clears.
  • If you’re using an air conditioner make sure it’s not drawing in air from outside.

Children displaying symptoms

  • If a child with asthma develops symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, wheeze, persistent cough, follow their written asthma first aid instructions, or in the absence of these follow asthma first aid, contact their parents and monitor them closely.
  • If symptoms persist or worsen don’t hesitate to call an ambulance on Triple 000.

Resources for staff

The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network provides a range of resources for staff and parents on its Aiming for Asthma Improvement in Children website.

Other ways to reduce smoke exposure

Air purifiers with a high efficiency particle air (HEPA) filter are able to reduce the number of fine particles indoors. For an indoor air purifier to work well, the purifier must be matched to the size of the room it is in and the room must be well sealed.  Humidifiers, negative ion generators and odour absorbers do not remove fine particles.

Face masks – P2/N95 rated face masks can filter out the fine particles in smoke. However, they are not designed to fit children.

Further information

NSW Health information about bushfire smoke and health.​​

Current as at: Thursday 19 December 2019
Contact page owner: Environmental Health