Living, breathing air pollution puts elderly at greater risk for diseases

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Don't breath so deeply, say doctors at the National Institutes of Health -- especially if you are elderly and reside near a busy highway or street or a power plant.

Results from a new four-year study of 11.5 million Medicare enrollees show that short-term exposure to fine particle air pollution significantly increases their risk for cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Pollution sources include motor vehicle exhaust and power plant emissions.

The study data indicate that small increases in fine particle air pollution increased hospital admissions for heart and vascular disease, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and respiratory infection among people over 65.

Participants over 75 years of age experienced even greater increases in admissions for heart problems and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease compared to those between 65 and 74 years of age, noted National Institutes of Health Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. The study is published in the March 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.