The continued rise in the earth’s temperature is more than just a number on the thermometer. It means assessing how everything on the planet will be affected by ongoing climate changes. The rising seas may overtake the landscape, while dry conditions leave fields barren. Between those two extremes lies the potential for significant public health impacts. The increase in certain ailments, illnesses, and diseases is already affecting us in ways we can’t afford to ignore.
Anxiety and Depression
Climate change causes rising surface temperatures that lead to increases in droughts, which is bad enough. But, the water vapor from the process fuels the rise of natural disasters, such as tropical storm frequencies and wind speed increases. These intense storms can devastate homes, businesses, and lives, leading — in addition to the obvious, tangible traumas — to more cases of post-traumatic stress disorders, depression, and anxiety.
The rise in ambient temperature, especially during the summer months, will prompt a rise in heatstroke, a life-threatening condition caused by the body’s inability to thermoregulate. There are two types of heatstroke: exertional and classic. Exertional heatstroke happens through strenuous work in the heat, while classic heatstroke involves exposure to high environmental heat, regardless of activities.
Additional Thermoregulatory Stress
Across the world, tens of millions take antipsychotic medications to address psychiatric disorders. One of the ways they work is by reducing input to the hypothalamus, which is the part of the brain responsible for regulating body temperature. Climate change means seasonal weather will become harsher, especially during the summer and winter months. Under normal circumstances, these extremes create health challenges for anyone. Due to their inability to thermoregulate, individuals on these types of medications have an increased risk of hyperthermia and, in rare cases, hypothermia.
As climate change effects continue and some parts of the world experience more drought, dry eye will become a problem. Without the ability to lubricate and nourish, chronically dry eyes become uncomfortable and affect vision. Along with prolonged drought, higher winds can cause an increase in airborne particles. These irritants can get in the eyes and lead to inflammation of the membranes and clogged oil glands, a condition known as blepharitis.
Cleaning up after a natural disaster is stressful enough, and with the lack of resources, survival is the first priority. However, during the aftermath of literally getting your house back in order, mold can lead to additional health issues. Damp foundations and walls are great environments for these allergens to propagate, and they create myriad health problems for those sensitive to them, ranging from skin rashes to upper respiratory infections, depending on spore type.
More UV Radiation Exposure
Scientists project that increasing greenhouse gases may reduce cloud cover, resulting in more UV-B radiation exposure, especially in places where ice and snow have melted. UV-B is the primary culprit in sunburn and, in more serious cases, skin cancers. In addition to dermatological problems, overexposure may increase cases of eye diseases, such as cataracts and macular degeneration, both of which can lead to blindness.
Allergies and Asthma
The number of pollen season days has more than doubled over the last 20 years, and increases in pollen circulation exacerbate allergy symptoms, making life miserable for many. In addition to allergies, climate change can aggravate those already living with asthma and create new cases of this and other respiratory illnesses. Stronger sunlight interacts with organic compounds in the air, increasing ground-level ozone. This air pollution can inflame airways and damage the lungs over time, possibly leading to premature death.
According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people around the world are dealing with food insecurity, partially due to climate change; an increasing inability to grow enough fruits, vegetables, and grains is increasing hunger. Along those same lines, the unavailability and expense of nutritious food in other countries, coupled with ready access to fast food, can lead to obesity. The concept of malnutrition means that both populations are dealing with undernourishment in ways that may increase the risk of long-term non-communicable diseases.
Dengue threatens more than 55 percent of the world population and is already considered a serious global health concern. Data shows that the optimal temperatures for the Aedes aegypti mosquito are between 69 and 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change is causing rising temperatures to shift tropical, subtropical, and temperate zones worldwide. This provides more opportunities for infected mosquitoes to not only spread the four types of dengue farther and faster but other Aedes-borne illnesses, such as chikungunya and Zika, as well.
Rise in Cholera
Research is showing that Vibrio cholerae, the bacteria that causes cholera, is not only a threat during floods, but also thrives during periods with little rain and hot temperatures. Cholera is a highly infectious diarrheal sickness that can lead to deadly dehydration. It can be transferred via person-to-person contact and through contaminated water. Excessive rains can spread the infection by mixing raw water with wastewater found in reservoirs used for drinking and crop irrigation. During times of low precipitation and high temperatures, the concentration of the bacteria in the water increases, making the disease just as dangerous.