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Family Health & safety

How smoke and air pollution can impact health – and what can help

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how smoke affects your health

Originally published on the Flo website

Some sources of air pollution are unavoidable, whether you live in urban regions or the country. Dust, smoke and chemical fumes or pollutants from cars, trucks, construction, factories, farms and bushfires are hard to avoid wherever people live. Even on a smaller scale, people can be exposed to second hand smoke from cigarettes and tobacco products.

Health professionals, especially here in Australia, are particularly concerned about bushfire smoke because of the combination of chemicals it can contain. These fires aren’t just burning trees but they are also destroying homes, cars and many commercial and industrial facilities, all of which can contribute their share of toxic gasses and particulate matter to the burning vegetation.

As a result of additional smoke in the air, even healthy people who are exposed may experience short-term respiratory problems, eye irritation, a sore throat and coughing. However, for those with pre-existing respiratory conditions, it can have a bigger impact on their health and quality of life.

Tips for dealing with smoke/air pollution

Inhaling smoke and pollutant particles can impact any person; young, old, healthy or not, so it’s important for every person exposed to take precautions. Here are some things you can do to protect yourself:

  1. Check the air quality in your area each day (as you might with the Pollen Count). There are some great apps now available, such as AirVisual and Air Matters, that monitor and track air quality in your area and show when it may be safe or hazardous. You can also check some state government websites like NSW Health Department.
  2. If air quality is poor in your area, minimise your exposure by staying indoors.
  3. Preserve indoor air quality by keeping windows and doors closed.
  4. Avoid unnecessary exercise both indoors and outdoors.
  5. Disposable respirator filter masks may be helpful when outdoors but be reminded they do not remove all particles from the air. There is no filter capable of filtering every substance. For bush fire fighters and SES volunteers, find out more about what should be considered when using air-filtering respirators here.
  6. If you have respiratory allergies and you use special medication such as an inhaler, you should have this with you at ALL times. Also ensure that any preventer medication is taken daily or as prescribed by your health professional.
  7. Wash your nasal and sinus passages each morning and night to remove any smoke particles or irritants that may be lodged there.

The size of the matter counts

The particles floating in the air can be defined by their size. Large particles are defined as those about 10-20 microns in size. Small particulate matter is measured as 5 microns, and ultra-fine particles are even less than that.

Studies on airborne pollutants have shown that while breathing through the nose, about 90% of particles that are 2-20 microns in size are deposited in the nose and its associated structures.

Given that most of the time people tend to breathe through their nose, it’s important to note that smoke and pollutant particles inhaled this way can remain lodged in the nose (and its associated structures) for a few days.

And during mouth breathing – for example, during or after exercise or activity – 95% of particles that are 10-20 microns in size can be trapped in the large airways leading to the lungs.

Diagram 1: Inhalation of particles through the nose and where they travel

How to clear smoke particles from your nose

An effective way to help clear particles from these areas is to wash them out regularly, i.e. each morning and night.

By using a large volume isotonic saline once or twice daily, a significant amount of the particulate matter inhaled can be cleared from the front of the nose to the very back of the nose (nasopharynx) and the sinuses.

This cleansing action, using a large volume of isotonic saline, can help clear and remove irritants or particles lodged there and can also help reduce inflammation in the nasal and sinus tissues.

A saline nasal spray like Flo Nasal Mist or Flo Saline Plus can also be helpful when you’re out and about, but using a sinus kit like Flo Sinus Care is more beneficial because it delivers a larger volume of solution and can reach those areas that a saline nasal spray can’t, as demonstrated by the images below.

Diagram 2: Saline nasal sprays only reach front of the nasal cavity 

Diagram 3: A sinus wash reaches both front and back of nasal cavities and sinuses

(See A and B below where particles can get lodged)

Even a large volume wash like Flo Sinus Care can be used in children as young as five or six years of age, as demonstrated here.

All Flo saline products are preservative-free, isotonic and gentle enough for daily use.

Important note: Always seek health professional advice, if your health is impacted by bushfire smoke or pollution inhalation.

Always read the label. Follow instructions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.

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