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Respiratory Help from Bushfire Smoke

| January 8, 2020 | Author: Naturopath

nose, general

Respiratory Help from Bushfire Smoke

Bushfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. Small particles can enter the lungs and cause harm. Respiratory diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and allergies can worsen resulting in shortness of breath and coughing. Smokers, the elderly and children are also more at risk from bushfire smoke.

  • The elderly - due to reduced capacity to recover
  • Children - due to size and tendency for outside activities
  • People with respiratory conditions - due to the underlying disease

How to Reduce Exposure

Bushfire smoke contains water vapour and small particles and gases which may include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. The gases are known to cause irritation and the particles are damaging to health. The smaller particles particularly as they travel deeper into the lung. Symptoms can occur for days after exposure.How to Reduce Exposure

  • Medication. The first thing to do is make sure medication is up-to-date and in supply (at least 5 days is recommended) and adhere strictly to the treatment plan.
  • Stay indoors. Close all doors and windows and stay inside.
  • Use an air conditioner - switch it to recirculate and add a filter if you can.
  • Use a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter to reduce particles.
  • Wear a P1 or P2 mask - will filter fine particles (but not necessarily gases).
  • Avoid outside activity when smoke is visible or smelt. Exercise increases your breathing – increasing your risk of pollution exposure.

In continuous or severe exposure, leaving the area completely may be necessary

Check the current air quality at your location through your state government website e.g.

Smoke Irritation

Symptoms of smoke irritation could include:

  • Itchy/burning eyes
  • Irritated throat
  • Cough
  • A runny nose
  • Blocked sinuses
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath

Whilst symptoms of smoke irritation can be quite obvious to most people and especially those with respiratory diseases, subtle smoke-induced changes in those with of disorders of systemic inflammation, coagulation or autonomic function maybe affected without any obvious changes. This is an important cconsideration, especially with conditions of the cardiovascular system, where the first symptom may manifest as an acute event such as a heart attack.

How can natural therapies help?

Symptom relief

For those with respiratory or cardiovascular disease it is important to check with your doctor before adding herbal or nutritional medicine AND continue on your medical treatment PLAN.

Irritated throat

The throat is the first point of contact for inhaled particles and irritants and is an area lined with much lymphatic tissue as a defence strategy to protect the body from invasion.

How can natural therapies help?Zinc and vitamin C lozenges will help support ithe immune system and act as a first-line of defense. 

Sooth sore, irritated throats with a throat sprays containing demulcents such as - licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and marshmallow (Althaea officinalis).

Gargle with salt water and sip on warm drinks with added honey

Many respiratory maladies are characterised by abnormal mucus. It may be thick and persistent and difficult to clear and narrows airways, making breathing difficult.

Nasal congestion

To help with conditions of excess mucus (catarrhal) especially of the upper-respiratory tract, hypersensitive conditions, allergic rhinitis and sinusitis. Choose products containing one or more of the following:

  • Eyebright (Euphrasia spp.)
  • Elder (Sambucus nigra)
  • Golden seal (hydrastis canadensis)
  • Golden rod (solidago virgaurea)
  • Mullein (verbascum)

An inhalation, sinus rinses and sprays can help with congestion, moisten mucous membranes of the nasal passages and aid in the expulsion of foreign matter. They can give immediate relief. Steam humidifiers with essential oils of eucalyptus, tea tree, camphor or pine can help clear congestion.

The Cough

Irritation in the airways can cause the cough reflex. This is most sensitive to the trachea and the larger airways, but becomes less so in the smaller airways of the lung – the alveoli.  A cough can be helpful to help expel mucus 

An expectorant increase the secretions of the respiratory tract thus reducing the viscosity of the mucous which then can act a demulcent (relieving irritation and inflammation). The increased fluid produces a “productive” cough that is less distressing and painful. The aim of an expectorant is to make the catarrh less thick and assist in its removal, whist calming a debilitating cough.

  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – stimulating but also offers soothing and anti-inflammatory action.
  • Mullein (verbascum) – has expectorant qualities, but also mucilage for soothing and anti-catarrhal action.
  • NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) - It is beneficial as a mucolytic helping clearance of mucous secretions.

Suppressing the coughWhen you need to suppress the cough
Irritation can cause a persistent cough annoying and also fatiguing. Spasmolytic herbs can help with tight non-productive coughs, breathlessness and wheezing.

  • Thyme (thymus vulgaris)
  • Horehound (marrubium vulgare)
  • Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
  • Elecampane (Inula)
  • Coleus (Coleus forskohlii)

Soothing the Irritation
Demulcent herbs are those containing mucilage. They are soothing and anti-inflammatory on the respiratory tract.

  • Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
  • Slippery elm (Ulmus spp.)
  • Mullein (verbascum)

Antioxidant Support

Antioxidants help protect the body from the damaging effects of toxins. Exposure to toxins can encourage the formation of reactive radical (oxygen or nitrogen) species, which are inflammatory molecules causing oxidative stress upon cells. Include whole foods especially fruits and vegetables to optimize antioxidation levels and choose supplements containing the following:

Vitamin C - a natural antioxidant which can also help reduce inflammation and lung irritation.

Selenium - a micro mineral which fights oxidative stress and helps defend the body from chronic conditions, such as heart disease and cancer.

Glutathione -  is an antioxidant found in plants, animals and fungi. It is found in most body tissue and in high concentration in the liver. Glutathione extremely important in protection cells from toxic damage. It is available in supplement form and from the diet - onions, garlic, avocados, cruciferous vegetables and asparagus.
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NAC - NAC is a precursor of L-cysteine that results in glutathione elevation biosynthesis (used to make antioxidants). It acts directly as a scavenger of free radicals, especially oxygen radicals and is considered a powerful antioxidant. Glutathione and NAC are available through naturopaths. 

Antioxidant SupportGinger - helps lung function, it can help support circulation and detoxification. Ginger is rich in polyphenols which work in protecting against cancer development and aids in reducing inflammation.

Turmeric - curcumin is the main natural polyphenol found in the rhizome of Curcuma longa (turmeric) which offers antioxidant, antimutagenic, anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
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Green Tea - and its extracts show positive action in being able to reduce environmental toxin-induced oxidative stress and damage to DNA and cellular structures. 

Keep up the fluids

Especially water. Water is a natural detoxifier, helping the organs of elimination to do their job of removing toxic elements from the body. Also consider green tea, turmeric drink or ginger steeped in hot water.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


The effects of bushfire smoke on respiratory health

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A Review on Various Uses of N-Acetyl Cysteine

Therapeutic properties of green tea against environmental insults

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Selenium: its role as antioxidant in human health

Fisher, Carole; 2009, MATERIA MEDICA OF WESTERN HERBS, Vitex Medica, New Zealand.

Mills, Simon and Bone, Kerry; 2000, Principles and practice of Phytotherapy, Churchill Livingstone, Aust

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