There have been increases in the number of hospital presentations for asthma and breathing problems in areas worst affected by the NSW bushfires emergency, prompting a renewed call for people to take precautions when there is smoke in the air.
Preliminary analysis of emergency department data shows that hospitals in the Mid-North Coast, where fires were at their worst, have had 68 presentations to emergency departments for asthma or breathing problems over the last week, almost double the usual number.
NSW Health Director of Environmental Health, Dr Richard Broome, said there were also signs that ED presentations for asthma and breathing problems were high in the Hunter and Central Coast Local Health Districts.
“Smoke from the bushfires that have ravaged so much of NSW have led to a rise in people seeking help at public hospitals,” Dr Broome said.
“Air quality has been very poor, so this increase isn’t unexpected. The good news is while the ED presentations have increased, the number of people requiring admission to hospital has remained about the same.
“The increase in presentations is across all ages and it serves to reinforce the message that people with asthma and other respiratory problems should take care on smoky days. It shows that smoke from active and smoldering fires can have a real impact on people’s health.
Dr Broome said the smoke might cause no more that eye or throat irritation for most people, but that those with known respiratory conditions, like asthma, need to be cautious when smoke is about.
“People with breathing conditions should avoid outdoor physical activity when there’s smoke around and people with asthma should also follow their Asthma Action Plan and carry their relieving medication with,” he said. “If you’re prescribed a preventer puffer, it’s really important to be taking it at the moment.”
“The best way to reduce exposure to smoke is to stay indoors with the doors and windows shut. Air conditioning can also help to filter particles from indoor air,” Dr Broome said.
Dr Broome said despite the increase in ED presentations, NSW hospitals are well prepared to deal with emergency situations such as the bushfires, and there was still a long way to go this summer.
“These bushfires have been devastating, but they will not be the last fires in NSW over the coming months. Staying cautions in smoky conditions will continue to be the best way to stay safe.”