Over 137 million Americans “are living in places with failing grades for unhealthy levels of particle pollution or ozone,” according to the American Lung Association’s 2022 report. This striking statistic represents a sharp increase of 2.1 million more people breathing in unhealthy air since only last year.
Still, while air pollution has been known to adversely affect adults and result in various cardiovascular events– such as heart failure, coronary syndrome, and stroke– its impact on teenagers is an emerging field of research.
And a first-of-its-kind study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association is pioneering this sector.
The researchers found that healthy teenagers who inhale particulate matter, or tiny particles of liquids and solids suspended in the air, may suffer from arrhythmias– or irregular heart rhythms.
Arrhythmias are generally rare but, if they occur, can lead otherwise healthy teens and young adults to suffer from cardiac arrest.
But, Fan He, the study’s lead author, described how the prevalence of irregular heart rhythms could potentially be expected to rise as we continue to witness increasing levels of air pollution.
“Our findings linking air pollution to irregular heart rhythms suggest that particulate matter may contribute to the risk of sudden cardiac death among youth,” He said.
Fine particulates, known as PM2.5, are smaller than 2.5 microns and can be deeply inhaled. Then, the particles can even enter into the bloodstream.
This matter typically originates from fuel combustion– such as wildfires and car exhaust– and has a multitude of effects.