23 October 2013

NSW Health has recorded a significant increase in the number of people treated for asthma and breathing problems across the Sydney Metropolitan region associated with the poor air quality linked to the ongoing fire emergency. 

NSW Health maintains a monitoring network of Emergency Departments across NSW to detect trends in attendances for various conditions.

New data shows that between Friday October 18 and Tuesday October 22, a total of 228 people attended monitored metropolitan Emergency Departments with asthma, while 799 people were treated for breathing problems by NSW Ambulance personnel.   

Professor Wayne Smith, Director Environmental Health Branch, NSW Health, said during those five days the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) air quality measurements show air pollution across the Sydney Metropolitan area ranged from poor to hazardous.

“On Monday this week – which recorded the worst air quality since the fires started - there was a 124 per cent increase in the number of people observed with asthma conditions at hospital with 65 patients treated,” he said.  

“On the same day, there was a 38 per cent increase in the number of people treated for breathing problems with 193 patients assessed after an ambulance call out.

“Yesterday there was a 59 per cent increase in the number of people seen for asthma in Emergency Departments with 46 patients treated, while 162 people were observed for breathing difficulties by ambulance staff during the day. 

“NSW Health reminds people to take heed of the health warnings as fires continue to burn across the State.   

“Smoke particles can cause a variety of health problems, such as itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation or runny nose and aggravate existing illnesses including bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.

“Those with lung disease and heart disease should closely monitor their symptoms.

“NSW Health is also reminding people that children, older adults and people with heart and lung conditions are most susceptible to the effects of air pollution.

“The best way to avoid breathing in the smoke is to remain inside with the windows and doors closed, preferably in an air-conditioned building.

“Smoke levels are likely to be higher outdoors than indoors, so sensitive people should limit the time they spend outside.

“Bushfires can result in a large amount of smoke particles in the air, even great distances from the fires.

“It is important that asthma sufferers follow their Asthma Action Plan and take their relieving medication where necessary.

“And if symptoms get worse, asthma sufferers need to seek medical advice.

“Fine particles can also irritate the lungs of healthy adults, so it is best to avoid any prolonged outdoor exercise,” Professor Smith said.

Further information on maintaining health during bushfires can be found at

Further information on bushfire smoke and health can be found at

Air quality alerts can be requested via SMS or email by visiting the Office of Environment and Heritage website and subscribing to Air Quality Index daily forecasts.

For local air quality forecasts and hourly air quality updates, visit the Office of Environment and Heritage website: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/aqms/index.htm

For more information about air pollution and health, visit the NSW Health website: