Climate change is bad for our health

When it comes to natural disasters and health, heat is public enemy number one. And as global temperatures rise in response to human activity, doctors and scientists expect the heat to infect more and more people.

The heat at night disrupts sleep while the body tries to cool off, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, chronic disease, inflammation, and mental health problems. Higher temperatures increase pollution, which is another important cause of illness and death. Climate-induced mental health issues are so pervasive that the American Psychological Association has created Climate Change Guide To help mental health providers treat AKA solastalgia.

“If we accept that climate change means higher temperatures, more extreme temperatures, more extreme weather events, more droughts and wildfires, we must also consider downstream health impacts, especially on vulnerable individuals who are disproportionately affected, ” Christopher Tedeschi, MDdirector of emergency preparedness in the department of emergency medicine at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

The World Health Organization says climate change is the biggest health threat facing humans at this time. Tedeschi agrees. We asked him if health care workers are ready, and what everyone can do to stay healthy in the face of climate change.

Climate change is a health crisis

The impact of climate change on health is a burning crisis, one that Tedeschi fears will multiply over the next several years and negatively affect everyone’s health in ways we may not yet understand.

The relationship between climate change and health

The changing climate directly affects our health. It is clear that deaths from heat illness during or immediately after a heat wave are linked to climate change. We know that Heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense. But sometimes the relationship between climate and health is more subtle. As temperatures rise, the impact of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, respiratory disease and mental health will be magnified and cause more deaths.

Once we collectively understand that climate change is partly responsible for the increased frequency and intensity of California wildfires, for example, it is easy to see the relationship to health effects: smoke inhalation, exacerbations of asthma, and even disruptions in primary care due to the displacement of patients, medical staff, and facilities.

I need to go across the country to experience how climate change is bad for health. At CUIMC during the recent heat wave, Tedeschi looked after an elderly patient with COPD. The patient arrived in an ambulance with shortness of breath despite oxygen being used approximately 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. He had been outside in hot weather all day, with worsening breathing, when he discovered that the elevator in his building was out of service. So exhausted from energy and short of breath due to the heat, he couldn’t walk up the stairs and ended up in the emergency room.

Medical term for climate-related diseases

The medical community has not settled on a good description of the health outcomes associated with climate change. Tedeschi likes the term “exacerbating climate disease” and notes that it is used more regularly in hospitals and in the news.

Some doctors and hospitals have begun to use the category of “climate change” as a cause of patients’ problems. As many do the same, we will have a real record of the hard-earned effects and numbers to show the increase in patients with climate-related conditions, not just anecdotes.

What doctors and hospitals see

This summer alone, New York City recorded an increase in the number of patients in the emergency room directly affected by heat. Some suffer from heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or dehydration. More are coming to the hospital with worsening respiratory conditions, such as COPD, asthma, and congestive heart failure. The mental health burden is also increasing significantly. The volume of patients with problems clearly linked to heat was greater than it was last summer.

The greatest concerns about climate change and health

The big events come to mind first: the health effects of extreme weather events, heat waves, fires, and floods. Sudden events create spikes in morbidity and mortality, as we have to do a better job of mitigating the risks.

But the real dangers may be more subtle. For example: an increased risk of vector-borne diseases as our environment warms, whether it be from ticks, mosquitoes, or other vectors. The Miami-Dade Health Department has reported a third case of locally transmitted dengue. We’ll see more reports like this as things get warmer and the range of disease-causing mosquitoes increases.

What should we all be worried about

The immediate problem and big picture of climate change should concern everyone. Everyone’s health can be affected by climate change in profound ways. Big climate-related events – hurricanes and floods, for example – disrupt our already strained healthcare system and interrupt care for people with chronic illnesses. Extreme heat will exacerbate illness and damage mental health because we will all worry more.

We should take care of people who are exposed to heat, smoke and fire because of their work or place of residence. We don’t know how we’ll be able to provide them with proper care when they have asthma, emphysema, dehydration or heart problems.

What to do if you think climate change is affecting your health

Talk to your doctor about your health risks, how they may be affected by the climate, and what you can do to reduce them. This could lead to different medications, activity changes, a plan for what to do if energy goes out during a storm, or even a strategy to reduce anxiety and worry associated with something that often seems completely out of our control.

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