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Smoky smells 'no threat to health'

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Port Hills residents affected by this week’s wild fires are being reassured the smell of smoke in their properties presents no serious threat to health.

Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, says while many people returning to their houses will notice a strong smoky smell lingering, it does not present any long term harm to people’s health.

"While those returning to their homes may find the smell distressing, it presents no immediate harm to health."

Dr Humphrey says health effects from smoke usually present at the time of exposure.

"Most people are very unlikely to have any long-term health effects from short term exposure to smoke but people with pre-existing respiratory (lung) illness or heart disease may experience and exacerbation (recurrence) of their condition."

Christchurch Hospital had two people present to the Emergency Department for breathing problems exacerbated from smoke during the fires.

"The advice to people experiencing any health issues following the tragic events of the Port Hills fires this week, is to phone their own GP team for #carearoundtheclock 24/7," Dr Humphrey says.

"After hours, and when they're closed, a team or nurses is ready to take your call."

Dr Humphrey acknowledged Canterbury has been hit hard with its fair share of disasters in the last half decade, so many people will understandably be feeling overwhelmed and in shock.

"We all need to remember to look out for one another and take care of each other.

Sue Turner, All Right? manager agrees.

"We know that going through a disaster takes a toll on all of us and coping isn't always easy," she says.

"During scary events like earthquakes or fires, our brains react chemically - releasing adrenaline. This response is our natural alarm system - our body telling us to be alert and ready for action. It's there to help us, but afterwards we can feel shaky, queasy or on-edge, and it can make it hard for us to concentrate. It can also result in strong emotional responses such as anger or crying."

Sue says this is normal and can be eased with doing some light physical activity, taking up a small chore or task and by focusing on some calm breathing for 10 seconds.

"Returning home after an evacuation can be a difficult and emotional experience. It is normal for people to have conflicting emotions as a result of returning home.

"Experience and research tell us that the impacts of disasters go on for a long time. You need to pace yourself. Go slow and steady, and look after yourself and your relationships.

"Recovering from disaster can be a stressful, overwhelming time. By taking care of yourself and your loved ones, remembering that this will take a long time, celebrating the small wins, and asking for help when you think you need it you’ll give yourself a good chance of a good recovery."

Sue says recovery takes a long time, but with strong, positive support from friends and family, most people recover well.

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