(HealthDay News) — As a huge plume of smoke from over 400 Canadian wildfires swept south and turned New York City into a landscape that resembled Mars more than Earth, heart experts warned that air pollution can damage the heart as much as it damages lungs.
It is obvious that wildfires can affect breathing and respiratory health, but exposure to this smoke can also cause or worsen heart problems, the American Heart Association said in an alert issued Wednesday.
“Most people think of breathing problems and respiratory health dangers from wildfire smoke, but it’s important to recognize the impact on cardiovascular health, as well,” Comilla Sasson, MD, vice president for science and innovation at the American Heart Association and a practicing emergency medicine physician, said in an agency news release. “Wildfire smoke contains a lot of pollutants, including fine, microscopic particles linked to cardiovascular risk.”
To stay informed about any special alerts sent by the local health department, Sasson recommended that people in areas where the smoke is thick or starting to build check the US Environmental Protection Agency’s zip code-level tracking map of current air quality at airnow.gov.
“In the American Heart Association’s 2020 scientific statement on air pollution exposure, we note that one of the most effective measures is the use of portable air cleaners, which have been shown to reduce indoor particulate matter by as much as 50 to 60%,” Sasson said. “Given their modest upfront cost [$50-200] and potential benefits in reducing cardiopulmonary outcomes, this measure has a high benefit for the cost.”
Previous research has demonstrated that the cost can be heavy. In one 2020 study, researchers found that exposure to heavy smoke during wildfires raised the risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests up to 70%. That risk was elevated in both men and women, among adults aged 35 to 64, and in communities with lower socioeconomic status.
Earlier findings showed that wildfire smoke exposure was associated with increased rates of emergency room visits for heart disease, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, pulmonary embolism, and stroke. Those emergency department visits increased 42% for heart attacks and 22% for ischemic heart disease within a day of exposure to dense wildfire smoke. This was especially concerning for adults 65 and up, according to that study, which was published in 2018 in the Journal of the American Heart Association.