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High exposure to wildfire smoke could increase the risk of cardiac arrest

The high number of wildfires in states like California makes this risk more urgent for consumers

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Photo (c) milehightraveler - Getty Images
Recent studies have highlighted how wildfires have led to increased damages to nearby homes, and now researchers are exploring how such events can affect consumers’ health. 

According to researchers from the American Heart Association (AHA), consumers who are exposed to high levels of wildfire smoke could be at an increased risk of cardiac arrest. 

“In recent decades, we experienced a significant increase in large-scale wildfires, therefore, more people are being exposed to wildfire smoke,” said researcher Ana G. Rappold. “In order to respond properly, it is important for us to understand the health impacts of wildfire smoke exposure.” 

Staying heart healthy

To better understand how wildfires can affect consumers’ heart health, the researchers analyzed data from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Cardiac Arrest Registry to Enhance Survival (CARES). The dataset included individuals in over a dozen counties in California that had been affected by wildfires between 2015 and 2017. They then compared that information with levels of smoke exposure across the state. 

The researchers learned that consumers were at the highest risk of cardiac arrest on days when the smoke from wildfires was at its strongest. 

“Particulate matter from smoke that is inhaled can penetrate deeply into the lungs, and very small particles may cross into the bloodstream,” said Dr. Rappold. “These particles can create an inflammatory reaction in the lungs and throughout the body. The body’s defense system may react to activate the fight-or-flight system, increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels, and increasing blood pressure. These changes can lead to disturbances in the heart’s normal rhythm, blockages in the blood vessels, and other effects creating conditions that could lead to cardiac arrest.” 

The study also revealed that consumers living in lower-income communities, smokers, and senior citizens were all at an increased risk of cardiac arrest. However, the researchers also explained that all consumers can take preventative measures to help stay safe following a wildfire. 

They recommend running the air conditioner in the home, as this can filter clean air inside while keeping the toxins out. Moreover, it’s important to stay indoors as often as possible to avoid smoke exposure when a wildfire is occurring. 

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