Climate Change and Lung Health

Climate Change is a Health Emergency

Climate change is harming health across the country and around the world. Learning about its impacts on your lungs can help you protect yourself and your family. The climate impacts listed below are just some of the ways that climate change endangers health. 

Air Pollution

Climate change increases the risk that air pollution, including ground-level ozone and particle pollution, will worsen. 

Climate change creates conditions, including heat and stagnant air, which increase the risk of unhealthful ozone levels. Ground-level ozone, often called smog, forms in the atmosphere when gases emitted from sources like smokestacks and tailpipes mix in the air. Hotter weather and stagnant air create conditions that make ozone more likely to form. Even with current measures to reduce ozone, evidence warns that climate change will likely increase ozone levels in large parts of the U.S. To protect human health, the nation needs strong measures to reduce climate change and ozone pollution.

Hotter temperatures and lack of rainfall also increase the risk of drought and wildfires, both of which create particle pollution. Wildfires have become a major source of extremely high particle levels in places hundreds of miles from fire sites. Dust storms also contribute to particle pollution, and they are expected to increase as soil dries out and the water table drops. Even with current measures to reduce particle pollution, these changes have led to increased high particle pollution days with worse levels of pollution in many places in the U.S.

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 mold. Warmer temperatures also allow allergens to flourish in new regions and for allergy seasons to last longer.

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.

Wildfires

Climate change increases heat and drought, leading to greater risk of wildfires. Like extreme weather, wildfires can force people to evacuate, which can make it hard to access medical care.

Further, 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. It's not just people who live in wildfire-prone regions who are at risk. Wildfires blow smoke hundreds of miles away.

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Page last updated: February 2, 2024

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