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Warning to asthma sufferers amid bushfires, thunderstorms

Smoke haze drifts over the CBD in Sydney, Wednesday, October 30, 2019. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore) Source: AAP

A severe asthma warning has been upgraded in parts of the country with authorities concerned air quality could pose health concerns.The smoke haze that's blanketed Sydney is expected to remain over the weekend, while Melbourne is facing thunderstorms that could trigger attacks.

Julia Ovens knows all too well the havoc a smoky environment can play on her health.

"Imagine the worst cold you’ve ever had and you’re really snuffly and finding it hard to breathe and then pinch your nose so you’ve lost half your breath and then imagine sucking through a straw."

During the Grantville bushfire in Victoria’s Gippsland region earlier this year she felt the impact, although the blaze was at least 50 kilometres away from her home.

"Straight away I knew that it was the smoke that had triggered it so that’s how I knew that that’s what had happened but it’s about trying to get the breathing under control getting yourself safe."

The air quality for the greater Sydney region is rated hazardous with 70 bushfires across the state, and vulnerable residents have been warned to stay inside until the skies clear.

People with asthma or hayfever in Melbourne and parts of Victoria have been alerted to the potentially deadly risk of asthma triggered by coming thunderstorms.

Given the potentially serious health impacts, and with one in nine Australians suffering from the condition, Asthma Australia CEO Michele Goldman is calling for better warnings to be given to the community to help minimize the risks. 

"We need to make sure that we are getting the right information to people at the right time, they’re alerted to when conditions are getting bad and that they know what to do and we can’t just rely on mainstream media in order to get those messages out there." 

And researchers at the University of Tasmania say they've identified a clear link between bushfire smoke and asthma attacks.

Nicolas Borchers-Arriagada is the study’s lead researcher.

With a spike in air pollution, it produces an irritation of the respiratory tract and that catalyses an asthma attack."

The study also found those most vulnerable were women, anyone over 65 and those who had pre-existing respiratory conditions.

"The evidence is really very strong on reduced life expectancies. There is premature mortality, there is impacts on different respiratory outcomes and there are even impacts in cardiovascular outcomes."


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