As a huge plume of smoke from over 400 Canadian wildfires swept south and turned New York City into a landscape that resembled Mars more than Earth, heart experts warned that air pollution can damage your heart as much as it damages your lungs.
It’s obvious that wildfires can affect breathing and respiratory health, but exposure to this smoke can also cause or worsen heart problems, the American Heart Association said in an alert issued Wednesday.
“Most people think of breathing problems and respiratory health dangers from wildfire smoke, but it’s important to recognize the impact on cardiovascular health, as well,” says Dr. Comilla Sasson, vice president for science and innovation at the American Heart Association and a practicing emergency medicine physician. “Wildfire smoke contains a lot of pollutants, including fine, microscopic particles linked to cardiovascular risk.”
In fact, experts have said that it would be healthier to smoke a 1/2 pack of cigarettes than it would be to simply breathe in wildfire smoke all day.
The dangers of wildfire smoke
Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including:
- Trouble breathing normally
- Stinging eyes
- A scratchy throat
- Runny nose
- Irritated sinuses
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- An asthma attack
- Fast heartbeat
Older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions are more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Previous research has demonstrated that the cost can be heavy.
In one 2020 study, researchers found that exposure to heavy smoke during wildfires raised the risk of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests by up to 70 percent. That risk was elevated in both men and women, among adults aged 35 to 64 and in communities with lower socioeconomic status.
Earlier findings showed that wildfire smoke exposure was associated with increased rates of emergency room visits for heart disease, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, pulmonary embolism and stroke.
Those ER visits increased 42 percent for heart attacks and 22 percent for ischemic heart disease within a day of exposure to dense wildfire smoke. This was especially concerning for adults 65 and up, according to that study, which was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
Tips for Protecting Yourself
Here are the measures you can take to protect yourself from wildfire smoke.