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Exposure to traffic-related air pollution increases blood pressure: Study

A new study shows that exposure to air pollution while stuck in traffic can negatively affect blood pressure, even when you are in your vehicle

Exposure to air pollution while stuck in traffic can negatively affect blood pressure.(Pexels)

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 28.11.2023  |  04:30 PM IST

Ever lost your temper while being stuck at a notorious spot like, say, the Silk Board junction in Bengaluru? Well, it's not without reason. A new research shows that exposure to air pollution while being stuck in traffic can negatively affect blood pressure, even when you are in your vehicle.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Washington, found that exposure to unfiltered air from rush hour traffic, which includes carbon dioxide and particulate matter can increase blood pressure and these effects can last up to 24 hours. It can cause long-term effects on the heart and lungs.

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“The body has a complex set of systems to try to keep blood pressure to your brain the same all the time. It’s a very complex, tightly regulated system, and it appears that somewhere, in one of those mechanisms, traffic-related air pollution interferes with blood pressure," lead author Joel Kaufman said in the university’s press statement. The study was published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

In a previous experiment conducted in a controlled environment, Kaufman’s laboratory had shown that exposure to diesel exhaust fumes increased blood pressure. Now the new study shows that breathing unfiltered air led to increases of more than 4.50 mm Hg (millimetres of mercury) in net blood pressure increases when compared to drives with filtered air, the statement explained. The increase happened quickly, peaked about an hour into the drive, and was steady for at least 24 hours. The amount of increase is similar to the effect of a high-sodium diet, the researchers said.

“There is a growing understanding that air pollution contributes to heart problems. The idea that roadway air pollution at relatively low levels can affect blood pressure this much is an important piece of the puzzle we’re trying to solve," Kaufman added in the statement.

These findings raise concerns about ultrafine particles, which refer to unregulated and little-understood pollutants. These particles, found in high concentrations in traffic-related air pollution are less than 100 nanometers in diameter. This study suggests that ultrafine particles could be particularly important for high blood pressure.

Several studies have warned about the negative impact of air pollution on health. For instance, a study, published in the journal BMJ in April, showed that long exposure to polluted air containing high levels of fine particles is linked to dementia. Such findings raise concerns about the increased impact of air pollution on health.

Also read: Air pollution linked to increased dementia risk