Everyone's health is at risk from the impacts of climate change. Changing climate patterns are degrading air quality and increasing the frequency and intensity of certain types of extreme weather such as droughts, floods and wildfires. However, people living with lung disease face greater risks. More than 35 million Americans live with a chronic (long-term or recurring) lung disease. The two most common lung diseases are asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In the United States more than 26 million people have asthma. Here's what you need to know about asthma and climate change.
Climate Change and Air Pollution
Climate change impacts the air we breathe by increasing the risk that air pollution, including ozone and particle pollution, will worsen. As temperatures increase, warmer air helps to form ground-level ozone, sometimes called smog, which is a powerful air pollutant. Ozone irritates the lungs and acts like a sunburn on your lungs which may trigger an asthma attack.
Additionally, in some areas of the United States, wildfires are becoming more frequent and intense, and wildfire seasons are becoming longer. Wildfires produce smoke that contains particle pollution, consisting of dangerous particles tiny enough to travel through the lungs into the bloodstream. Particle pollution can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, early death, and lung cancer. The wind can carry these particles for thousands of miles causing air pollution to increase in other areas, which can cause you to have an unknown exposure.
Climate Change and Extreme Weather
Climate change also increases the frequency and severity of certain types of extreme weather, such as droughts, floods, and extreme storms. These events force people to evacuate and often lead to them losing their homes. Evacuating may force people to leave behind medications and lose communication with their healthcare providers, causing a disruption in their asthma management. Repairing damage due to a storm opens up additional risks, such as mold and toxic chemicals found in flooded homes and open burning of debris from gutted buildings. These risks are especially dangerous for individuals with asthma and other lung diseases.
Climate Change and Allergies
Individuals who have allergic asthma are also at a greater risk of allergy symptoms as a result of climate change. The warmer weather from climate change contributes to longer pollen seasons and more potent pollen. As temperatures increase, plants produce more pollen, such as ragweed, grass, tree, and other allergens. Also, moisture from increased rainfall and floods can increase the risk of mold.
Resources for Asthma and Climate Change
The American Lung Association has many resources to help adults manage their asthma. If poor air quality, dust storms, pollen and mold cause asthma symptoms or flare-ups, monitor the outdoor air quality, follow your asthma action plan, and call your doctor if your symptoms don't improve or get worse. Below are a few resources to learn more about how climate change can impact asthma, how to minimize your exposure to air pollutants and how to prepare for extreme weather events.
If you have asthma and have been impacted by poor air quality, please share your story on Lung.org.
Blog last updated: February 27, 2020