Air Pollution: It’s Not Just Bad for Your Lungs

Air Pollution: It’s Not Just Bad for Your Lungs

by C.K. Hickey, Eco Coalition Editor

Asthma and other respiratory problems are bad enough, but poor air quality potentially harms more than just your lungs. According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), air pollution has toxic effects that injure the heart and blood vessels too.

The research suggests that ultrafine air pollutants – such as those created by the recent ruptured oil well on the Gulf Coast – may pass into the blood stream and damage the heart and blood vessels directly. But one need not be exposed to oil fumes for their heart to be in danger. A post-mortem study presented last week, which examined the hearts of 21 adults who lived in Mexico City, concluded polluted air in general can create inflammation of the heart muscle in city-dwellers as young as 13 years old. While the researchers noted this inflammation poses no immediate threat to the heart, it may become a factor as people age. In other words, prolonged exposure to air pollution can lead to ailments such as heart attacks, chest pain and even death from heart disease, arrhythmias, heart failure or cardiac arrest.

There are a couple of steps people with preexisting heart conditions can take to minimize the threat posed by air pollutants. Doctors recommend patients with heart disease avoid exercising outdoors on particularly smoggy days, for example. It’s also recommended people limit their exposure to fireplace smoke during the winter. But ultimately, this new research further indicates how important it is for us to continue improving air quality in the cities and towns where we live.

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