Respiratory Health and the Negative Effects Caused by Climate Change

respiratory health
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The effects of climate change are seen in many different realms of our lives. While some are more prevalent than others, many of these are being recorded and analyzed for future projections. Although the sea levels may be rising, it is not as pressing of an issue we are forced to address on a day-to-day basis. However, our personal health and well being is often at the forefront of our minds. Forced to look at personal impact, some research is finding is that climate change may be taking a toll on our respiratory health.

The Center of Disease Control (CDC) has been enlightened by this data collection revealing a severe rise in the diagnosis of asthma. During 2001 and 2009, an estimated 4.3 million people were diagnosed with asthma. Currently, 8.3 percent of adults and 8.3 percent of children are diagnosed as having asthmatic issues.

The number of those affected by asthma directly correlate with atmospheric changes. A study on elementary students in Washington measured lung inflammation in school buses before and after EPA standards. The study measured the air quality within the buses before and after EPA set emissions standards on vehicles. After the EPA standards were set in place, children who had asthma saw a 20 to 31 percent drop in lung inflammation. As we have seen, there is a correlation in climate health and personal health. Now, a parallel is being drawn between climate change and the rise in asthma cases.

Climate change is making asthma even worse for people as a result of a warming planet. One of the major triggers of asthmatic reaction are seasonal allergies caused by the presence of pollen. Global warming is providing the earth with the heat that pollen thrives in, enabling it to establish itself earlier in the year, produce more airborne pollen and remain present later into the year than ever before. In addition to watery eyes and the sniffles, asthmatics can expect to be more prone to attacks for a longer period of time throughout the allergy season.

Interesting results have been found by Arizona State University researchers about the spread of the influenza and the warming temperatures that are a result of a changing climate. Their research shows during mild winters, the flu virus is unable to spread as fast as it would in colder weather. The highly contagious virus thrives in cold, dry air. This may sound like good news; however, the lack of infection results in a more severe epidemic the following year due to a lowered immunity in the population.

For those who suffer from asthma, this is very bad news. When those with asthma get the flu, it can have dangerous consequences. The flu causes further inflammation of the bronchi in the lungs and activate our body to produce more mucus, both already common in those with asthma. This makes asthmatic patients more likely to develop pneumonia which can result in further complications.

Climate change isn’t the only thing negatively affecting asthma sufferers. In today’s opioid crisis, those with asthma experience extremely severe side effects from painkillers and experts can’t explain why this is. The relief needed by the use of painkillers may not be outweighing the side effects, leaving many asthmatics concerned for the increasing air pollution and prolonged pollen season.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states “today, pollution levels in many areas of the United States exceed national air quality standards for at least one of the six common pollutants.” There have varied attempts in the United States to reduce carbon emissions and business byproducts which have resulted in a reduction in particle pollution. However, particles travel through the air and across oceans and state lines.

The EPA website states “an extensive body of scientific evidence shows that long- and short-term exposures to fine particle pollution, also known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), can cause premature death and harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, including increased hospital admissions and emergency department visits for heart attacks and strokes.”

As our climate continues to change, the threats to our respiratory systems continue to increase. It may become more likely to see mobile asthma clinics, referred to as the “Breathmobiles”, in front of our children’s schools as asthma case continue to rise. Taking precautionary measures, such as installing air purifiers in your home or avoiding outdoor exercise during allergy season, can help to reduce effects on your respiratory system. You can check the air quality in your area by visiting the Air Quality Index (AQI) page to learn more.