Exposure to air pollution caused by wildfires increase the risk of acute heart problems, such as cardiac arrest and ischemic heart disease, especially among older adults, says a new research.
"Finer particulate matter is present in extremely high concentration in smoke. These particles are harmful because they are small and easily inhaled. The respiratory risks are well-known, but heart risks have been harder to analyze," said lead author Anjali Haikerwal of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at Monash University in Victoria.
The researchers studied the association between wildfire-related particulate pollutant exposure and the risk of heart-related incidents in Victoria, Australia in December 2006 and January 2007.
At that time, smoke from wildfires traveled to surrounding Australian cities and reached the levels of particulate pollution that exceeded air quality limits.
The researchers used medical records to determine the number of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests among people age 35 or older in Melbourne region and in rural areas of Victoria.
The researchers found there were 457 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, 2,106 emergency department visits and 3,274 hospital admissions for coronary artery disease during the fire period.
The concentration of fine particulates in the air over a two-day period increased the risk of cardiac arrest among men and older people. Emergency room visits due to coronary artery disease also increased, particularly among women.
Haikerwal said, "The data suggests the particles may act as a trigger factor for acute cardiovascular health episodes. During a fire, please take precautionary measures as advised by public health officials. This is especially important for older adults who are at higher risk of adverse health effects during wildfire smoke exposure."
The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association