Royal National Park bushfires: smoke causes spike in Illawarra asthma call-outs

Illawarra paramedics have reported a spike in asthma-related call-outs as smoke from nearby bushfires blanket the region.

NSW Ambulance Illawarra District Inspector Kelvin Milne has warned those with asthma and other respiratory conditions to take precautions as fires continue to burn in the Royal National Park. A combination of heat and poor air quality has coincided with an increase in calls to Triple Zero in the region since Saturday.

‘’Because of the escarpment, the smoke carrying down from the national park sits in the Illawarra for some time,’’ Insp Milne said.

‘’So we’ve seen a small spike in asthma-related activity and are urging people with respiratory conditions – or the elderly or very young – to take some precautions.

‘’Stay indoors with the windows closed, put the air conditioning on, follow your asthma plan and pay attention to local updates on air quality and bushfire activity.’’

Air quality in the Illawarra was ‘’poor’’ for much of the weekend and worsened on Monday according to the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage air quality index, which is updated hourly.

‘’We’d urge people to seek medical advice early and to call Triple Zero if their asthma plan is not working, if their colour changes, they have audible wheezing and are not able to talk in sentences,’’ Insp Milne said. 

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District head of respiratory medicine, Associate Professor Graham Hart, said smoke particles could also cause itchy eyes, throat irritation, runny nose and illnesses like bronchitis.

‘’The smoke particles can also aggravate existing lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma,’’ he said. 

‘’Symptoms can occur for several days after smoke is inhaled, so people with the above conditions need to be vigilant with their treatment programs.’’

Prof Hart said those with asthma or a lung condition who develop symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing, should carry their reliever, such as Ventolin or Asmol, with them at all times.

He added that healthy adults should find that any symptoms they had developed during a bushfire event should clear after the smoke disappeared.

Prof Hart urged anyone with worsening, or ongoing, symptoms to seek medical advice urgently.

Insp Milne said ambulance call-outs for heat-related stress had also increased with high temperatures in the past month.

‘’Dehydration, sunburn and heat exposure can lead to heat stroke and life-threatening conditions,’’ he said.

‘’It’s summer and people are enjoying the beach and outdoors, but we’d urge them to also remember to drink plenty of water, make good use of shade and not consume too much alcohol.

‘’Look after your friends and family, keep pets indoors and never leave children or pets in cars.’’

This story Smoke causes spike in Illawarra asthma call-outs first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.