Public health experts say wearing a mask could become like wearing a hat in the playground during future bushfire seasons.
Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences Professor Stephen Duckett told a Senate inquiry this week the extent and duration of the fires had "a major impact on physical and mental health in Australia on an unprecedented scale".
"Clearly we need to address the ongoing impacts. We all need to prepare to mitigate and adapt in response to future events, given the frequency and severity of such events is predicted to rise during the coming decades," Professor Duckett said.
However Professor Duckett said there was little understanding of the long-term impacts of bushfires, especially the effects of bushfire smoke.
"For example, concerns around the potential impact of bushfire smoke on the respiratory health of first responders volunteers and the broader population were well documented during the bushfires however we do not fully understand the biological mechanisms for how air pollution from bushfire smoke causes for example or exacerbates respiratory problems particularly in the Australian context," Professor Duckett said.
"We also have a limited understanding of the health impacts of prolonged exposure to bushfire smoke. These sorts of questions need to be address. Likewise there are similar gaps in our knowledge of the impacts on mental health, vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and Indigenous communities, eye health, food and water safety, burns and heat stress."
Professor Duckett said there was an opportunity now to fill these knowledge gaps.
"This sort of research will need to be prioritised alongside other areas especially at this time with research to help tackle the pandemic," he warned.
Dr Ben Ewald from the Public Health Association of Australia said there was scant information when the smoke was thickest about how people could protect themselves.
"The Health Department advice was stay indoors and shut the windows and if you've got an air conditioner, make sure it's filtering properly," Dr Ewald said.
"That's a good way of dealing with one or two bad air days but in Canberra it went on for 56 days and you can't really expect people to stay indoors for that long especially people need to get out and exercise for their general health and their mental health and those people who were walking or cycling to work, they need good advice about how to protect themselves with a mask despite the bad air day."
Dr Ewald said there needed to be better advice about which masks were available and how they could protect people.
For instance, many people did not know there were masks made for cyclists and runners in countries where air pollution is more prominent, he said.
"If there was one future approach would be better advice about informing the public which masks are available and which masks do the job of protecting people," Dr Ewald said.
"It would be important for instance for schools and school children, if they're going to be doing their usual school sports days during a bad air emergency, you know having some system where they could have masks available, just as they would have a hat to protect them from UV radiation, they could well have some masks available so they could do this despite the air being poor quality.
"Now that hasn't been done in the past but that would be a logical kind of step to take if we're going to have a repeat of these bad air months that happened over the last summer."
Dr Ewald also suggested an "AirSmart" public education program, similar to the SunSmart UV education program, was needed.
"The Asthma Foundation was very keen on this idea of developing community education on how people should respond to days of high air pollution," Dr Ewald said.
The bushfires royal commission heard earlier this year smoke from the Black Summer bushfires impacted 80 per cent of Australia's population and has been linked to hundreds of deaths and thousands of hospitalisations.
In Canberra, the smoke was linked to 31 extra deaths.