How Air Pollution Affects Heart Health
Studies have found a correlation between long-term exposure to air pollution and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. When inhaled, many particles in polluted air are so tiny they can eventually reach the circulatory system, including the heart. Once pollutants move into the circulatory system, they cause inflammation. Then they damage blood vessels and increase arterial calcification. This is especially true with long-term exposure, but damage to the heart can happen even over the short term.
What is the Most Dangerous?
The most common air pollutants are particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, lead, and carbon monoxide. Particulate matter (PM), a type of air pollutant containing microscopic particles such as dust, smoke, and soot, is harmful to human health. PM2.5 — particulate matter 2.5 microns or less in diameter. That's roughly 30 times smaller than human hair and small enough to penetrate the lungs and enter the bloodstream, causing inflammation, blood clots, respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, COPD, cardiovascular disorders including stroke and heart attack, as well as cancer development over time.
Research by EPA and others has found that exposure to increased concentrations of PM2.5 over a few hours to weeks can trigger cardiovascular disease-related heart attacks and death. Longer-term exposure can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality and decreases in life expectancy.
Ozone and nitrogen dioxide can irritate the airways, increasing breathing difficulty. Lead inhalation can raise blood pressure and stress the heart while the body absorbs it. Sulfur dioxide causes inflammation in respiratory passages and liquid accumulation between lung cells. Carbon monoxide affects oxygen levels in the blood, essential to maintain cardiac health. Each of these pollutants has been studied separately to their ability to impact heart health negatively. Still, they tend to interact with one another while floating around in the air, creating an even more hazardous environment.
Where is it a Problem?
Particle pollution can be found just about anywhere—in cities due to motor vehicle exhausts and construction sites and; in rural areas due to agricultural burning. Even indoors due to poor ventilation systems or smoking cigarettes indoors, but also (and most dangerously) near factories emitting smoke directly into the atmosphere without proper filtration systems, leading to high particle pollution levels.
Especially dangerous in developing countries where industry regulations need to be enforced correctly.
Reducing Your Exposure to Air Pollution
The good news is that you can reduce your exposure to air pollutants by taking certain precautions.
1. Try not to exercise outdoors when the levels of air pollutants are high;
2. Wear a mask if you go outside;
3. Avoid burning wood or coal indoors;
4. Use natural cleaning products instead of chemical-based ones;
5. Invest in an air purifier for your home or office space.
7. Additionally, if you live in poor air quality, consider investing in an indoor air filter system to breathe cleaner indoor air even when outdoor levels are high.
Improving Your Home's Air Quality
You can also improve the air quality inside your home by ensuring it is adequately ventilated and free from dust or other allergens.
- Ensure all windows are closed when outdoor pollutant levels are high;
- Regularly clean surfaces with non-toxic products;
- Use natural materials wherever possible (such as wool rugs instead of synthetic carpets).