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Wildfire smoke is extra dangerous for seniors

Wildfire smoke is extra dangerous for seniors. The American Heart Association is warning that smoke from wildfires has been linked to heart and stroke-related issues, particularly in older adults. While it has been previously established that wildfire smoke worsens respiratory conditions, its effect on other aspects of health has been unclear.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco, the California Department of Public Health, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency collaborated for one of the largest studies on the health impacts of wildfires in California to date.

The experts analyzed over one million emergency room visits in northern and central California during intense wildfires in the summer of 2015. They investigated the relative risk of visits for complications of the heart, brain, and blood vessels on days with light, medium, or dense smoke and compared this data to days with no wildfire smoke.

The study revealed that smoke exposure is linked to increased rates of emergency room visits for respiratory problems, ischemic heart disease, irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, pulmonary embolism, and stroke.

Adults aged 65 and older were found to be the most at risk. Within 24 hours of dense wildfire smoke, rates of emergency room visits among senior adults increased by 42 percent for heart attacks and by 22 percent for ischemic heart disease.

Furthermore, emergency room visits for all cardiovascular and cerebrovascular causes were found to be elevated across days with any level of smoke exposure. As expected, the number of patients with respiratory conditions also increased.

Study co-author Wayne E. Cascio believes that the research “will have a significant impact on how clinicians and public health officials view future wildfire events and the smoke that’s generated from them.”

First author Zachary S. Wettstein pointed out that, as wildfires are expected to become more intense and frequent in North America, more research is needed to understand the wide range of health impacts from smoke exposure.

“We need to study effective interventions that might decrease exposure to smoke and the associated health impacts,” said Wettstein. “These findings urge us to study these impacts over longer periods of time and within susceptible populations.”

The study is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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