Smoke pollution linked to cardiac arrests. Picture AAP Image/Joel Carrett
Smoke pollution linked to cardiac arrests. Picture AAP Image/Joel Carrett

What Aussie bushfire smoke is doing to our bodies

SMOKE pollution caused by this summer's raging bushfires has been linked to a 10 per cent spike in cardiac arrests in at least one hospital.

And a new study published today has found for every 10 per cent increase in air pollution there is a four per cent rise in cardiac arrests where a person's heart stops pumping blood around their body and they stop breathing normally.

In the biggest ever study of acute air pollution published in the journal The Lancet Planet Health, University of Sydney cardiologist Professor Kazuaki Negishi warned even air pollution levels rated as safe can trigger cardiac arrest.

"Even when air quality was good people had cardiac events and those who were aged more than 65 were affected more, the young less so," he said.

Even short term exposure to the pollutants was enough to trigger a cardiac arrest, the research found.

 

Smoke haze from the NSW bushfires blankets Sydney’s CBD. Picture: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi
Smoke haze from the NSW bushfires blankets Sydney’s CBD. Picture: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

 

The study calls for a rethink on air pollution standards because the increase in cardiac arrests occurred even when air pollution levels met World Health Organisation standards.

"Short-term exposure to PM2·5 was associated with an increased risk of Out of Hospital Cardiac Arrest even at relatively low concentrations," the study found.

"Regulatory standards and targets need to incorporate the potential health gains from continual air quality improvement even in locations already meeting WHO standards."

 

 

Professor Negishi said when people breathe in air pollution like smoke it gets into their bloodstream and there are three main ways it can trigger cardiac arrest:

• The pollution can trigger plaque build-up in a person's blood vessels to rupture and block the blood vessels;

• Air pollution can generate inflammation in the lungs which triggers a cardiac arrest attack;

• Air pollution can disturb the body's sympathetic nervous system serves to accelerate the heart rate, constrict blood vessels, and raise blood pressure.

The University of Sydney academic who also works as a cardiologist at Nepean Hospital said he had tracked a 10 per cent increase in cardiac arrests at the hospital in the last three months when air pollution was high when compared to 2017 and 2018.

Sonke haze in Melbourne’s CBD. Picture AAP Image/David Crosling
Sonke haze in Melbourne’s CBD. Picture AAP Image/David Crosling

 

Sydney's air quality was rated as hazardous, very poor or poor on more than 80 days last year as bushfires razed the state.

At times air pollution measures rose to nearly 800 making Sydney's air four times worse than Beijing's.

Melbourne has been plagued by poor air quality due to bushfires raging throughout the state and in mid January it had the worst air pollution in the world.

The pollution disrupted the Australian Open, forced pools and beaches to close, horse races were cancelled and construction workers had to abandon outdoor work.

 

Parliament House blanketed by bushfire smoke. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images
Parliament House blanketed by bushfire smoke. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

 

In Canberra, the National Gallery was forced to close and some public service offices were shut when air pollution levels reached extremely hazardous levels in early January.

One woman died after disembarking from an aircraft into Canberra's air pollution caused by bushfires.

The study focuses on air pollution called fine particulate matter PM2.5 which comes from coal mining, bushfires and cars.

The effects of air pollution were not just limited to cardiac arrests, it could also provoke asthma attacks, make lung disease and other breathing problems worse and could impact a person's mental health, Professor Negishi said.



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