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9 Ways Climate Change Is Making Us Sick

Climate

Yes, climate change is causing hurricanes, droughts and making sea level rise. But it’s also making us sick. Illnesses related to a warming planet are on the rise. Here are nine specific maladies related to climate change that could be affecting you or those you love and five ways for dealing with them.

Illnesses related to a warming planet are on the rise. Photo credit: Shutterstock

1. Asthma and respiratory ailments

Asthma is increasing across the U.S. Between 2001 and 2009, reports the Centers for Disease Control, the number of patients diagnosed with asthma rose by 4.3 million. Asthma is the leading cause of school absences and of many work absences as well. Asthma attacks are often triggered by pollen. As it turns out, plants are starting their pollination season earlier and it lasts longer. That doesn’t bode well for anyone who suffers from any number of respiratory ailments.

2. Allergies

In addition to asthma, the number of people suffering from hay fever and other pollen allergies is also on the rise. There are two reasons for this. First, the range where goldenrod and other plants that release heavy amounts of pollen is increasing as global warming makes parts of the country more hospitable to plants that used to be contained by colder temperatures. Second, as mentioned above, the sheer amount of pollen that plants are creating is increasing. Trees are the most common trigger for spring hay fever, reports the National Wildlife Federation. With spring arriving 10 to 14 days earlier than it did just 20 years ago, pollination is starting earlier. Hay fever is, too.

3. Heart disease and stroke

Extreme temperature changes, plus high particulate matter from burning coal and gasoline, can increase the risk for heart attack or stroke. The risk is particularly great if you live in an urban area with high levels of outdoor air pollution.

4. Poison ivy

Climate change is bad for you, but very good for poison ivy. As a result of higher global temperatures, poison ivy leaves are getting bigger, the vines are getting hairier and the oil in the leaves that makes you itch is getting more potent.

5. Dengue fever

As warmer bands of climate take hold, mosquitoes carrying dangerous dengue fever are moving north. Consequently, a disease that was once restricted to the tropics is starting to show up in the southern U.S.. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that two types of mosquitoes capable of transmitting dengue fever can now be found across at least 28 states.

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6. Lyme disease

Diseases carried by ticks are spreading, as well, especially in the northeast. “In Maine, which had been considered less hospitable to ticks because of its colder climate, crews tapping maple trees are seeing more of them than ever,” says Ted St. Amand, an entomologist and district manager for Atlantic Pest Solutions. “There never was much concern because deer tick was not that prevalent inland from the coast,” St. Amand said. “Now it’s everywhere.”

A female American dog tick.Researchers say there’s been an explosion in American dog tick populations this year. Photo credit: Dr. Gary D. Alpert/Harvard University

7. Other infectious diseases

Malaria and cholera are not big threats in the U.S., fortunately. But in the wake of extreme weather events, various waterborne pathogens can cause diarrhea and may contaminate water supplies. These pathogens reproduce more quickly in warmer conditions as well.

8. Heat stroke

Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can cause heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke and even death. Senior citizens may be particularly susceptible, particularly those who do not have air conditioning.

9. Mental health and stress

Extreme weather events like hurricanes and droughts are putting tremendous pressure on people, who worry about their basic survival. Stress, anxiety, depression, even post-traumatic stress disorder can occur when someone goes through a harrowing.

What Can We Do?

1. Cover up

Protect yourself from mosquito bites by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants and socks when you’re out in the yard. The same protection will work against poison ivy and ticks when you’re weeding or taking a hike in the woods. Protect bare skin by spraying insect repellent proven to be effective against both ticks and mosquitoes.

2. Pay attention to air quality alerts

Most cities will issue a “Code Orange” or “Code Red” or “Code Purple” to alert citizens to stay inside. You can see the complete guide to air quality alerts here.

3. Get the medical attention you need

Your doctor should prescribe the proper treatment for asthma, heart disease, allergies and other physical ailments. A therapist or psychiatrist can help treat anxiety or depression related to your climate concerns. Be prepared by having emergency medication on hand before you need it.

4. Stay indoors or in a cool location when temperatures rise

If you have family, friends or neighbors who are suffering from the heat, help them get to a community cooling center, where they can get some relief, water and medical care if they need it.

5. Use less energy and support public policies to reduce the use of fossil fuels

Shifting to renewable sources of energy like solar and wind is the most important way to reduce the build-up of the greenhouse gases that cause climate change in the first place. In the short term, monitor your health and well-being closely. In the long term, we will all be victims of climate change one way or another unless we cut back on the energy we use and develop strong national public policies that decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and boost our use of solar energy and wind power.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.