Sydney has been covered in a blanket of smoke haze this week as back-burning continues in preparation for what could be one of the worst bushfire seasons the country has faced.
With huge areas of Queensland, NSW and the Northern Territory already battling fires, hazard reduction burning is one strategy to reduce the fuel loads ahead of a forecast hot summer.
But with it comes poor air quality and heath risks, particularly for the most vulnerable.
NSW Health is reminding people that children, older adults and those with medical conditions are most susceptible to air pollution and excessive smoke. During this time, "emergency departments see an increased number of patients" with respiratory issues, especially those in vulnerable groups, emergency doctor Dr Andrew Rochford said.
Here is how specific groups are expected to be affected by the Sydney smoke haze over the next few days.
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While most babies will be "able to deal" with the haze, those who are "very young" or "had problems when they were being born," are more vulnerable, according to Professor Charlotte Hespe, NSW and ACT Chair at Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
"So we're talking premature babies, babies who did require extra breathing support when they were born or who've been affected by a respiratory virus," she told Yahoo News Australia.
"Our overriding recommendation will be that if you are pregnant, then you should do all that you can to avoid any of the exposure to that particular pollutant. Because we know that it may have an impact on an unborn foetus, particularly if it's sort of decreasing your oxygen or otherwise exposing you to some harmful pollutants that you're inhaling."
The same goes for children, who should also "wait until the air quality improves" before taking a trip outside to the playground or the park.
Just like the young, the elderly are also "more sensitive" to the "haze and poor air quality" according to Dr Rochford.
"There is a likelihood that they may have an adverse reaction, so it's probably best to err on the side of caution," he said.
Those who suffer from asthma — a chronic condition that effects the airways in the lungs — are especially vulnerable during this time, and should be "managing their health" so the air quality doesn't lead to an asthma attack.
"Asthma can be triggered by various things and days where air quality is poor is one of them," Dr Rochford said.
"If you're a person who gets asthma and normally you would go out and have a run, exercise in the park, or be doing a long walk, It may actually be wiser to say 'not today'," Professor Hespe added.
What should we all be doing?
If staying at home is not a realistic outcome, whether that's because you're really close to where the back-burning is happening, Professor Hespe recommends temporarily moving to somewhere else "until the smoke has settled".
"It's good to go to one of these big supermarkets with air conditioning," she said. "That at least then means for a slab of time you're in a place where your lungs can be breathing, filtered air, and you can clear it out."
Dr Rochford also recommends buying "some high quality air filters and air purifiers that can help with air within your home" and "making sure the windows are closed".
He says "major symptoms" of respiratory issues to look out for include difficulty of breathing, difficulty speaking, coughing, wheezing, and a tightness in the chest.
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