In recent years, poor air quality has been a hot topic across the world. It also represents the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK: causing the equivalent of 28,000 to 36,000 deaths every year.
But what is it about air pollution that makes it so dangerous? And how likely is it to affect the health of your heart?
At Cardiac Science, we have a special interest in raising awareness of the potential causes of sudden cardiac arrest. So we’ve done a bit of research to find out more about the effects of air pollution on heart health.
What is air pollution?
Air pollution is a mixture of gases, liquids, and particulate matter that’s suspended in the air we breathe.
It’s usually caused by man-made things like factories and vehicle exhausts, but pollen, dust, mould spores, and wildfires can also add to the problem.
If you live near a busy road or factory, you are more likely to be affected by air pollution than someone who lives in the countryside. Children, pregnant women, people with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and people over the age of 65 are also more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution – and both short and long-term exposure can cause issues.
How does air pollution affect health?
Air pollution can cause a wide range of health issues, from minor eye, throat and nose irritation to lung cancer and coronary heart disease. Additionally, there is mounting evidence that inhaling pollutants can lead to dementia.
In terms of how air pollution affects heart health, studies in both China and the USA have linked long-term exposure to air pollution with an increased risk of atherosclerosis. This is when fatty deposits build up inside the artery walls, which over time can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart attacks.
Short-term exposure, meanwhile, has been found to increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, arrythmias, and heart failure, in the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions.
This is because inhaling carbon monoxide can constrict blood vessels, limit the amount of oxygen our blood can carry, and prevent our organs from getting the oxygen they need to work properly.
Particulate matter, meanwhile, is thought to interfere with electrical signals in the heart. This could kick-start irregular rhythms, stop the heart from pumping properly, and potentially lead to sudden cardiac arrest and even death.
How can I avoid air pollution?
The numbers associated with air pollution and heart health might be a bit scary. However, there are measures you can take to reduce your exposure to harmful pollutants, and protect your heart health in the long term.
Some of these are to do with how you travel: avoiding heavy traffic where possible, choosing to walk or cycle rather than drive, and using segregated cycle lanes and pedestrianised routes if you can.
Others are to do with improving your overall health. If you’re physically active and eat a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, you’re less likely to be susceptible to poor air quality.
And if you have a pre-existing heart condition, it might be worth staying indoors on the worst air quality days. You can check this via The Met Office weather forecast, and Defra’s Daily Air Quality Index.
Finally, you can protect your friends, colleagues and neighbours from some of the deadly consequences of air pollution by investing in a community AED. Because if the worst should happen and someone goes into sudden cardiac arrest, having a defibrillator nearby could save their life.
Find out more today!
For more information on heart health, visit the Cardiac Science Education Hub today.