What This Summer's Record-Breaking Heat Waves Mean for Lung Health

Today, NASA just announced that July 2016 is the hottest month recorded since record keeping began, as well as the hottest July ever. Oppressive heat waves are sweeping the country this summer – from California to the Northeast. The serious heat waves we are experiencing are not just uncomfortable – they are part of a trend that has critical implications for our health.

Why all the heat?

Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth's atmosphere, increasing both average temperatures and extreme temperatures. And as you may have noticed, climate change is making heat waves more frequent and more intense.

The first half of 2016 has blown away temperature records. The latest NASA data show that July 2016 is now the tenth consecutive record warm month, and 2016 is on track to be the hottest year on record. In fact, 2015 is currently the hottest year on record, and the previous hottest year was 2014. Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer than any decade on record.

How this impacts our health

Worsening heat can have serious impacts on health—especially lung health. How does this happen? Heat makes it harder to clean up air pollution. Warmer temperatures make ozone pollution more likely to form, and climate change increases the frequency and intensity of wildfires, which create particle pollution.

Ozone and particle pollution can cause a range of health issues including shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks and cardiovascular harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer. Both types of pollution can cause early death. And millions of people are at high risk, including young children, older adults and those already living with a lung disease like asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

During this summer we have already seen many hot days with accompanying "code orange" air pollution alerts and devastating wildfires affecting air pollution, like the fires in California and Idaho. So how can we protect the lung health of our families? Here is a quick list of steps you can take (for more information, see our longer list here):

  • Know your risk
    • Check daily air pollution forecasts in your area. Download the American Lung Association's State of the Air app on your mobile device through the Google Play Store or the iPhone iTunes store. Other sources include local radio and TV weather reports, newspapers and online at Airnow.gov.
  • Reduce your exposure on bad air quality days
    • Avoid exercising outdoors and limit the time children spend playing outdoors.
    • Always avoid exercising near high-traffic areas since vehicles create harmful air pollution.
  • Reduce the pollution you create
    • Don't burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash are among the major sources of particle pollution (soot) in many parts of the country.
    • Walk, bike or carpool instead of driving alone.
  • Help fix the bigger problem!

While we can help protect ourselves and our families by knowing our risks, limiting our exposure and reducing personal contributions to air pollution, we must also support policies that combat climate change and limit air pollution. Please help beat the heat by calling on our decision-makers to protect our health: click to tweet!

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Related Topics: Healthy Air, Health & Wellness,


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