In recent news, a study in the Journal of the American Heart Association discovered that air pollution can trigger irregular heart rhythms within two hours after exposure. Therefore, in order to minimise the impacts of air pollution, wearing face masks and avoiding intense physical activity is recommended on days of severe pollution.
At this point, new health issues caused by air pollution are hardly new. Seemingly every week, new conditions are found to be caused by or exacerbated by airborne pollutants. However, it’s worth discussing these newfound health implications because they add to our understanding of air pollution and allow us to see the seriousness of the issue.
At first glance, this study appears to be reiterating much of what we already know. For example, we know air pollution harms cardiovascular health and can lead to various heart conditions. However, these studies have focused on adults - not teenagers- who are often thought to be less impacted.
Directly, air pollution can lead to an irregular heath rhythm in teens for a couple of hours after exposure. However, far more worryingly, these exposures can lead to far more severe health implications later in life. The study found that exposure to particulate matter in teens can contribute to the risk of sudden cardiac death among youth and young adults.
Notably, the study focused on the impacts of fine particles (PM2.5). While larger particles such as PM10 can have health impacts, PM2.5 is more harmful in the long term as it can be inhaled deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream.
These particles are usually emitted via transport relying on fuel combustion. However, wildfires can also contribute greatly to PM2.5 concentrations in some areas. Whatever the source, PM2.5 should be avoided wherever possible.