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    Heart and vascular

    Protecting your family's heart health from air pollution

    How to protect your family’s heart health during heavy air pollution


    Your first question, upon reading this article title, might be how air pollution impacts heart health. It's an unfortunate reality, especially for those in geographic locations that make you more prone to air pollution.

    One of these areas is Utah, where the mountains are majestic and the air is crisp – but sometimes not crisp enough. Cities nestled in the valley, such as Salt Lake City, come with a unique challenge: air pollution. But fear not, because we'll explore how you can protect your family's heart health during poor air quality days.

    Salt Lake City’s air pollution

    But first, let's talk about the elephant in the room – or rather, the haze in the air. Salt Lake City is no stranger to air pollution, especially during winter months when inversions trap pollutants close to the ground.

    UCAIR, Utah’s Clean Air Partnership, described inversions as the mountain ranges around the valleys creating a bowl shape. During the winter, this geographic bowl causes warm air to act as a lid, trapping the cooler air below. Just as the cold air can’t escape, neither can the air pollution. During inversions, air pollution doubles every day. The inversion process only stops with the help of a storm or heavy winds.

    How air pollution impacts heart health

    Circling back to your first question, the answer is “well, quite a bit actually.” Intermountain Health research has shown that exposure to air pollution can increase the risk of heart-related issues such as heart attacks, strokes, and even heart failure.

    The tiny particles in polluted air can sneak into our bloodstream and wreak havoc on our cardiovascular system. These particles, known as particulate matter, can cause inflammation in our blood vessels, making them narrower and harder for blood to flow through. This puts extra strain on our hearts, forcing them to work harder to pump blood throughout our bodies.

    For those with existing heart conditions, the pollution during inversions can be life-threatening.

    Jeff Muhlestein, PA-C, cardiologist at Intermountain Health McKay-Dee Hospital has seen air pollution impact his work. “Usually, we get one or two severe heart attack patients who arrive at our emergency room daily, but instead of one or two, we had six or seven patients with heart attacks during a particularly unhealthy air day,” he said. “From my experience, I believe that even a single day of unhealthy air places people at greater risk for heart attack.”

    How to protect my family’s hearts from air pollution

    Fret not, it’s not all bad news! By taking these proactive steps to reduce pollution exposure, you can keep you and your family’s cardiovascular health on track:

    • Stay informed - check for up-to-date air quality updates
      • Keep an eye on air quality forecasts and avoid outdoor activities on days when pollution levels are high. This is especially true for those with more air sensitivity, such as those with diagnosed heart diseases and the immunocompromised.
    • Create a clean air sanctuary
      • Invest in an air purifier to filter out pollutants and create a safe home for your family's hearts. Consider purchasing an indoor plant, such as a snake plant, aloe vera, or english ivy. Not only do they purify the air, but they spruce up your home.
    • Choose green transportation
      • Opt for walking, biking, or public transportation whenever possible to reduce vehicle emissions. Especially on inversion days, these group efforts can dramatically reduce air pollution, and protect the hearts of your community.
    • Be mindful of indoor air quality
      • Keep your indoor air quality free of harmful chemicals. Consider switching to natural products that minimize the release of pollutants. And remember smoking in general is bad for cardiovascular health, so definitely don’t smoke indoors.
    • Support clean air initiatives
      • Get involved in local efforts to improve air quality and advocate for policies that prioritize environmental health. If you live in Utah, UCAIR has incentive programs for making the switch to cleaner, greener ways of living.

    As residents of a unique geographic location, there’s a responsibility to protect community hearts from the impacts of air pollution. By taking these simple steps, you can enjoy clean air while keeping your family’s hearts healthy for years to come.


    Protecting your family's heart health from air pollution