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Climate Change and Lung Health

Drought, wildfires, heat, flooding, pollution—the effects of climate change already create serious threats to lung health.

Here's How Climate Change Impacts the Air We Breathe:

Air Pollution

Climate change increases the risk that air pollution, including ozone and particle pollution, will worsen. Because ozone pollution is more likely to form in warmer weather, climate change will make it harder to continue cleaning up this widespread pollutant. Rising temperatures intensify drought, and dust and wildfires fill the air with particle pollution.1 Wind can carry dust and smoke particles for hundreds of miles.

Allergens

For allergy sufferers, climate change may mean more itching and sneezing. As temperatures rise, plants produce more pollen, increasing ragweed and other allergens. Moisture from increased rainfall and floods can raise the risk of molds. Warmer temperatures also allow allergens to flourish in new regions and for allergy seasons to last longer.  2

Flooding and Other Extreme Weather Events

Climate change increases the risk of flooding and other extreme weather events that can damage homes and force families to evacuate. Often families that must rapidly leave their homes may have to recover essential medicines or seek medical care elsewhere. Those that return often face homes with mold, polluted floodwater residue and other damage, exposing them to indoor air pollution as they clean up and repair their dwellings. 3

Wildfires

Climate change increases heat and drought, leading to greater risk of wildfires. Microscopic particles found in wildfire smoke cause everything from coughing and asthma flare-ups to heart attacks and premature death, especially for those with heart and lung diseases.4

It's not just people who live in wildfire-prone regions who are at risk. Wildfires blow smoke hundreds of miles away. For instance, a 2002 forest fire in Quebec, Canada, resulted in up to a 30-fold increase in particle pollution in Baltimore, roughly 1,000 miles downwind.4

Health Risks of Climate Change: Resources for People with Lung Disease

Two fact sheets tell you what you need to KNOW and what you need to DO.

For more information
  • Luber G, Knowlton J, Balbus J, Frumkin H, Hayden M, Hess J, et al. 2014: Chapter 9: Human Health Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J.M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G.W Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, 222. 
  • Watts N, Adger WN, Agnolucci P, Blackstock J, Byass P, Cai W, et al. 2015. Health and Climate Change: Policy Responses to Protect Public Health. The Lancet Commissions. Published online June 23, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60854-6

    • What You Should Know – Ways Climate Change Affects Lung Health

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    • What You Can Do - How People Can Protect Themselves

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    1. Luber G, Knowlton J, Balbus J, Frumkin H, Hayden M, Hess J, et al. 2014: Chapter 9: Human Health Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, J.M. Melillo, Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and G.W Yohe, Eds., U.S. Global Climate Change Research Program, 222. http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/report/sectors/human-health

    2. Luber G. et al. 2014.

    3. Luber G. et al. 2014.

    4. Luber G. et al. 2014.

    Page last updated: February 24, 2020

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