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Three ways air pollution can make you sick

It’s no secret that air pollution has been connected to a great many health problems. But a series of studies shows it’s also associated with increases in hospitalizations due to heart and respiratory health emergencies—and that the phenomenon occurs not just in the U.S., but also other countries.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome in the U.S.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a rapidly progressive disease in critically ill patients suffering from conditions such as pneumonia and traumatic injury. The most serious complication is that fluid leaks into the lungs, impairing the ability to breathe.

Because the elderly are particularly at risk for the disease, researchers at Harvard University studied nearly 30 million Medicare beneficiaries discharged from U.S. hospitals from 2000 through 2012 to find a connection between ARDS sufferers and air pollution. Researchers first examined hospital data, tracking admissions by zip code due to ARDS.

The team then developed statistical models using the annual average air concentrations of particulate matter and ozone for those areas. The models showed a significant association between annual increases in particulate matter and ozone concentrations, and in hospital admission rates for ARDS among elderly patients.

Bronchiectasis in Scotland

Researchers at the University of Dundee, Scotland studied nearly 15 years of data for air pollution in Perth, Dundee and surrounding areas and matched that to medical records of 430 patients suffering from bronchiectasis, a chronic breathing condition. On days when air pollution increased, they found a corresponding rise in hospital admissions and medical visits among patients with breathing problems. The impact of poor air quality was most significant in areas with heavy traffic and during hot summer days.

Atrial fibrillation in Rome

In Rome, researchers studied the connection between the inhalation of air pollution, including particulate matter, and increases in emergency room visits by patients with atrial fibrillation (AF), the most frequent type of cardiac arrhythmia. They analyzed 14 years of daily hospital emergency visits to correlate AF and pollution levels in Rome. Their finding: A high concentration of pollution was associated with a rise in the number of emergency room visits for AF within 24 hours of breathing the polluted air.

What you can do

On days when the air quality is poor, try to stay indoors, if possible. And keep windows closed. In addition, a smart air purifier with a HEPA filter, like Coway Airmega, can help eliminate harmful pollutants from your indoor air.