Air pollution in summer increases heart-attack risk

Summer officially begins this week, and in many parts of the country that means warmer temperatures are mixing with particulate air pollution and ozone to produce dangerous levels of summer smog. New research has further clarified the link between smog and heart attacks, and the EPA warns that anyone sensitive to air pollution should be aware of the dangers and consider taking protective measures during elevated periods of smog. For most, a high-performance air purifier that efficiently removes particulate pollution from indoor air at home or work will help offset the peaking pollution outdoors and may help manage some of the potential risk of exposure to elevated smog levels in summer.

Smog is generated by vehicle emissions, industrial pollution particulates, sulfur dioxide and other airborne contaminants that react to sunlight. In addition to particles, smog includes ground-level ozone, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants. Because smog travels with the wind, it can affect areas far beyond the urban centers and freeways where it typically originates.

Smog and heart attacks

The link between smog and respiratory conditions such as emphysema, bronchitis asthma and other illnesses is well known and documented. But new research has continued to identify the potentially deadly link between smog and heart attacks. For example, the Journal of the American College of Cardiology recently reported on the effect of smog in triggering atrial fibrillation (also known as “AFib”).

Atrial fibrillation is the development of an abnormal, irregular heartbeat that in turn can lead to blood clots, strokes and heat failure. The Tufts University study concluded that, “air pollution is an acute trigger of atrial fibrillation.” Researchers closely studied heart patients with implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) and found that Afib increased significantly among this vulnerable cohort within two hours of exposure to air pollution. The study found the increase in Afib occurred even at air pollution levels well below EPA air quality standards. One researcher commenting on the study told a leading medical journal: “It didn’t take much air pollution at all – it just took spikes – in the two hours prior to the (AFib) event.”

Increased risk of cardiac arrest

Another recent study, this one at Rice University, concluded that a significant increase in cardiac arrests is triggered by air pollution at levels that fall within EPA standards. Examining out-of-hospital cardiac arrests triggered by fine particulate pollution and ozone in Houston, the researchers found an increased risk of cardiac arrest – up to 9% – due to an increase in airborne fine particulates on the day of or the day before a heart attack.

Many regions of the United States are already experiencing the increases in smog associated with summer weather. The city with the worst smog in the United States is Los Angeles, according to the American Lung Association. Many of the other cities with the highest smog levels are also in California, but Houston, Dallas, Washington D.C. and Baltimore are also among the top ten.

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