Mask Warning Issued As Sydney Residents Battle 'Airpocalypse'
As Sydney continues to be blanketed by thick bushfire smoke, NSW Health has issued a warning about the use of face masks after the city suffocated through the worst air quality in a decade on Tuesday.
With still more days of smoke haze predicted ahead, many Sydneysiders have turned to using face masks in a bid to breathe easier while outside.
But NSW Health is warning the masks might not be as effective as people think and said its important that residents take the hazardous conditions seriously.
Dr. Richard Broome said while P2 or N95 masks are theoretically effective against smoke, evidence suggests they will only work properly when they are a "really good fit."
"It's quite hard for people to achieve that in practice," Broome explained.
"So the evidence is that whilst they can be effective, they might not be providing the benefits people think they are."
Broome said more smoke was being anticipated throughout Wednesday, after parts of Sydney saw air quality levels 12 times the hazardous level on Tuesday.
Respiratory expert Professor Bruce Thompson said bushfire smoke contains fine particles called PM2.5 that can reach the lungs.
"When the particles are smaller (or have a diameter less than) 2.5 micrometres, you can inhale them into your lungs. Once they get into the lungs, they can stick in there," Thompson told 10 daily.
According to NSW Health, short-term exposure to these particles can lead to irritated eyes, worsening asthma and lung diseases, while long-term exposure can impact on lung function and lead to the development of respiratory diseases.
Thompson said effective face masks filter out the fine particles but added that the best way for a person to minimise their exposure to smoke is by staying indoors. Those who have a pre-existing illness, including asthma, should follow their medical plan and seek help from their doctor if needed.
It comes as an increasing number of Sydneysiders have taken to wearing face masks in the last month, during what Dr. Broome described as "unprecedented" smoke conditions.
Some stores that stock different face masks have even begun selling out.
Chemist Warehouse, the country's largest pharmacy retailer, and office supplies chain Officeworks are among the stores that stock different types of face masks.
But last week, at least two stores from each chain in the Sydney CBD that were contacted by 10 daily said they had sold out of the products, as Sydneysiders rush to protect themselves from the smoke and ash thick in the air from bushfires burning statewide.
A staff member from Chemist Warehouse Sydney Central told 10 daily that customer demand for face masks has been "crazy".
"A lot of people are having trouble breathing with this smoke ... we've sold out," they said.
The staff member said the store hopes to bring in more stock, depending on supply.
Another Chemist Warehouse store in the CBD has seen demand increase over the past few weeks for both kinds of masks. Other stores said while demand is high, they still have some masks in stock, for now.
Two separate Officeworks stores in the same area have also completely sold out.
"People keep coming in and asking for them," a staff member from the store on Hunter Street told 10 daily after it ran out of stock last Thursday.
Steven Paton, from Harvey Norman's Moore Park store, said sales for air purifiers were "going absolutely crazy" as people battled the choking smoke.
"We just had to build another big wall because last night they just went crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it for air purifiers," he told 10 News First at the time.
"They work. They get all the germs, they get the smoke, pollen … They get everything out of the air giving you nice clean air to breathe in your homes."
More than 83 fires are still burning across New South Wales as the bushfire emergency continues across the state.
At least 40 of those are out-of-control, including a dozen which are at a watch and act level.
Extensive fire bans also remain in place across much of the state.