We all have that one elderly relative who claims they can predict a change in the weather through some physical symptom—a throbbing in the toe, an ache in the shoulder? But did you know that, no matter how young or old, sick or well, our health is directly impacted by the weather? That’s nothing new, of course. From allergic responses to irritants in the air to the tissues’ reactions to changes in barometric pressure, the atmosphere has been impacting the human body for millennia. However, these effects have perhaps never been greater or more significant than today, in the era of climate change. But just exactly what impact might climate change have on your health and what can you do about it?
In the Air Tonight
One of the most significant health challenges brought about by climate change is the effect on air quality. Rising temperatures worldwide are not only making for longer and more severe allergy seasons, but they are also increasing the amount and concentrations of environmental airborne pollution. These effects can be serious even for healthy adults and children, but for the millions of Americans who suffer from pulmonary or cardiovascular disease, the consequences can be deadly.
A Global Catastrophe
The warming of the Earth is not only making the air dirtier, but it’s also making the atmosphere far more unstable. That leads to a significant increase in the number and intensity of storms, from tornadoes and hurricanes to floods, blizzards, and deadly heatwaves. As the frequency of these devastating storms increases, millions of people worldwide could find themselves sickened, injured, or displaced as a direct result of climate change.
The Eye of the Beholder
When you think about the negative health impacts of climate change, your first thought may not be about protecting your eyes, but perhaps it should be. In fact, because of climate change, more ultraviolet rays are making their way to the Earth’s surface. This can be devastating to your eyes’ sensitive cells, leading not only to the formation of cataracts but also to retinal damage. And the danger is not only in the summertime. In fact, exposure to UV rays in the winter can be nearly as high as in the warmer months, especially with the sunlight glinting off the snowpack.
What Can Be Done?
When we think of all the harm that comes from climate change, from life-altering storms to life-threatening diseases, it’s easy to feel powerless. However, there are things that you can do to protect yourself and your family.
First, take care of the air quality inside your home. Make sure that your HVAC or other heating and cooling systems are equipped with clean air filters, and be sure to change these monthly. It is also a good idea to invest in an air purifier or humidifier to clear your indoor air of the pollutants your HVAC may have missed.
Second, don’t be afraid to consult with your healthcare provider for strategies you can use to guard against the hazards of climate change. Health education, after all, is becoming an increasingly important component of modern healthcare. Your care providers are not only willing but also highly trained to provide you with the information that you need, including directing you to essential resources, to support you in ensuring your own well-being and the well-being of your loved ones. You can even enroll in community health education programs, often available at low or no cost, to help you and your family prepare for a weather disaster or prevent climate-related illness.
Another important strategy is to focus on natural and holistic solutions to promote physical, psychological, and emotional health. We live in the pharmaceutical era, and while there can be no doubt that prescription medication has saved countless lives over the last century, it is also equally certain that many of us have crossed the threshold into prescription drug addiction. As the health challenges associated with climate change increase, it is crucial not to rely unduly on pharmaceuticals, as the cure can quickly prove to be worse than the disease.
Learning to adapt to the many issues facing the population in 2020, from the opioid epidemic, the decline in vaccinations, and of course, climate change is a challenge we all face in different ways. People working in healthcare are likely acutely aware of the impact of these modern issues. Due to professional shortages in the nursing field, many may find themselves playing the part not only of the healthcare provider, but also of educator, climatologist, and even disaster preparedness expert. In the educational sphere, teachers are navigating choppy waters due to starkly differing beliefs that exist today regarding the impact, or even the existence of climate change. And a myriad of industries that are helping the greater population to stay healthy, ranging from HVAC technicians to firefighters and optometrists, are discovering how climate change is uniquely impacting their industries. Although change can be slow, one thing is for certain, we are indeed adapting.