THE NORTH Coast Public Health Unit is advising people to protect their health as smoke from a bushfire west of Dorrigo, combined with local fires, affects air quality across the region.
Director Paul Corben said that the region's air quality had deteriorated significantly this week due to the prevalence of fires and the prevailing weather conditions.
"This could have potentially serious health consequences for people in higher risk groups, particularly in areas such as Port Macquarie where smoke has been present for eight weeks and around Dorrigo/Ebor, Drake and Angourie where fires are still burning," Mr Corben said.
"We very strongly advise people who are more sensitive to smoke, including those with respiratory or heart conditions, pregnant women and very young children, to take active steps to protect their health.
"People with chronic health conditions or who are experiencing symptoms should limit their exposure to the smoke, where possible, and consider going to air-conditioned buildings such shopping centres and libraries, or temporarily spending time away from the affected area until conditions improve.
"Residents should also minimise smoke inside their homes from other sources such as candles, incense burners and wood fired heaters. Ensure all windows and doors are closed tightly, especially at night when smoke pollution levels are usually highest."
Mr Corben said fine smoke particles can penetrate far into the lungs and enter the blood system. Smoky air containing these particles can exacerbate asthma and other chronic lung conditions, be associated with lower birth weights and early delivery, contribute to heart attacks and even cause premature death.
"While most healthy people are unlikely to experience problems with the smoke, it is very important that those with chronic health conditions keep their medication handy at all times. Anyone experiencing symptoms of repeated coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest pain, palpitations or nausea should seek medical attention or call Triple Zero (000) in an emergency."
Mr Corben said if it looks smoky outside, stay indoors until the air clears and if you are outside, avoid strenuous exercise or heavy work.
Residents can download the AirRater smart phone app (airrater.org) to monitor air quality and environmental conditions and to track their symptoms.
For the latest fire information, visit the NSW Rural Fire Service website at:www.rfs.nsw.gov.au