Wildfire smoke gets to your heart. At least, that’s what a new Australian study claims. It’s well known that smoke is bad for your lungs – judging from the airborne nature of smoke, that much should be obvious. But we hadn’t the research to back claims that it harms the heart as well… until now.
Scientists from the Occupational and Environmental Health Center from Victoria’s Monash University have uncovered that smoke from wildfires does not only do your lungs a great deal of damage. It can also severely put your heart at risk as it can trigger strokes, cardiac arrests and a lot of symptoms of other heart diseases.
There have been quite a few obvious difficulties in analyzing how smoke gets to your heart. Lungs, on the other hand, are pretty easy to analyze when it comes to smoke. Yet, as Anjali Haikerwal, the lead author of the study, says, they’ve managed to analyze the heart effects. And what they found was that very fine particulate matter, being in high concentration in smoke can be very easily inhaled. Once in the lungs, the smoke particles can cause inflammation of the heart, weakening the muscle considerably.
This is because, as they are so small, they can easily enter the blood stream and cause irreversible damage wherever they may get to. We’re taking about particles which are even smaller than 2.5 micrometers. Studies on these have been conducted near power plants, or highways, where vehicle exhaust is high.
You may remember that in 2006 and 2007, in just two months, 2.5 million acres of land were devastated by wildfires near Victoria, Australia. The researchers looked for medical logs from hospitals in the surrounding areas of Melbourne, as well as rural Victoria. They particularly looked for heart-arrest cases happening in people over 35 which were not in hospitals.
They tied the gathered data with information regarding the spread and intensity of wildfires, so that they knew in which areas the air pollution had been higher. What they found was that there were 457 heart attacks happening outside of hospitals, 2,106 emergency visits to the hospital, as well as 3,274 admissions to the hospital for coronary artery disease (CAD).
Putting the data in a chart, they realized that as fire particle concentration increased, the risk of strokes for men over 65 also increased. So did the CAD likelihood for female patients. The results show that fire particle density is considerably higher in wildfires than in the emissions from cars or power plants.
The study concludes that people should stay indoors during wildfires, especially the elderly.
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