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A new study warns that breathing in air that has even low levels of pollution poses a threat to the heart and lungs of older adults.Researchers studied more than 63 million Medicare patients’ medical records from 2000 to 2016. They found that the risk of pneumonia, heart attack, stroke and an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation or a-fib could be increased by long-term exposure to low levels of air pollution.According to results published Monday in the journal Circulation,

the danger to the heart and lungs of the elderly was seen even at levels of air pollution below national standards.Three components of air pollution were analyzed by researchers — small particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone. The study showed that each unit of elevated levels of those contaminants was correlated with thousands of hospital admissions a year.The results suggest that, the researchers said, air pollution should be considered a risk factor for heart disease and lung disease.

“People should be conscious of the air quality in the region where they live to avoid harmful exposure over long periods of time, if possible,” said lead author Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health postdoctoral research fellow.”Since our study found harmful effects at levels below current U.S. standards, air pollution should be considered as a risk factor for cardiovascular and respiratory disease by clinicians, and policymakers should reconsider current standards for air pollutants,” she said in a news release.

By causing inflammation in the heart and throughout the body, air pollution can damage the heart and lungs, the researchers said.
In terms of particular contaminants, long-term exposure to particulate matter was associated with higher rates of heart attack, stroke, a-fib and flutter, as well as pneumonia. An increased risk of stroke and a-fib were associated with long-term exposure to nitrogen dioxideThe only disease related to long-term ozone exposure was pneumonia.

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Researchers have stated that there are no national standards for long-term ozone levels that are safe or unhealthy.When our studies were limited to people who were only exposed to lower air pollution concentrations, we still found an increased risk of hospital admissions with all the findings studied, even at concentration levels below current national standards,”When we restricted our analyses to individuals who were only exposed to lower concentrations of air pollution,

we still found increased risk of hospital admissions with all of the studied outcomes, even at concentration levels below current national standards” She said that more than half of the sample population were subjected to what U.S. guidelines consider to be low levels of these contaminants.

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