Doc reveals scary reality of Open smoke crisis
Leading sports medicine expert Dr Peter Larkins has labelled the move to allow Australian Open qualifying matches to go ahead in Melbourne's smoke haze this week as "very risky".
While matches were delayed at Melbourne Park on Wednesday due to the poor air quality, Dr Larkins said players risked serious side effects such as lung and eye infections competing in the smoke choking the city.
Several players needed medical attention for breathing difficulties during qualifying matches for the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Tuesday.
Likening conditions to the pollution concerns athletes faced leading at the Beijing Olympics, Dr Larkins said the risk with poor air quality was more immediate than heat stress.
"I can give you the health answer and the health answer is it was very risky and it was poor conditions to perform in," Dr Larkins said.
"From a health point of view it would have been a lot safer to not have people competing.
"But I understand the commercial reality and the sponsorship reality of these tournaments.
"The air pollution risk, it's not like heat. Heat builds up over time when you are competing, so you can … have longer breaks.
"But with air pollution, in the first five minutes of going out onto a tennis court, you can get an asthma attack or an eye irritation attack or a coughing attack.
"It's not like you can say we'll play less sets or we'll play shorter points, so as you start breathing that air, you're at risk. It's quite different from the heat stress situation."
Melbourne's air quality was rated as "hazardous" early on Tuesday as the smoke from the bushfires in East Gippsland and New South Wales descended on Melbourne.
It was rated as "very poor" by the EPA on Wednesday.
Dr Larkins said the smoke haze could impact people who didn't normally suffer from any respiratory concerns, but athletes trying to perform faced even greater stress on their bodies.
"It's a combination of not being able to transport oxygen quickly but then they also get the coughing and things that we saw," Dr Larkins said.
"For the average person you don't want to be doing high intensity exercise (in the smoke), you can't say that to an athlete in a qualifying round of a tennis game.
"There is no question that it impacts on their energy and the potential therefore of getting a lung infection or an eye infection from the pollutants in the air, it puts them at huge risk for the coming weeks ahead."
Dr Larkins, a specialist sport and exercise physician, said the conditions in Melbourne this week reminded him of the concern for athletes competing at the Beijing Olympics.
"It took me back to Beijing 2008, leading into that Olympics there was incredible pollution concerns with China," Dr Larkins said.
"And it reminded me of that because there were so many precautions taken there for athletes not to experience lung infections, eye irritation. It's not just breathing (problems) it's things like skin irritation and eye irritation."