Why Doctors Are Talking to Patients About Climate Change

The medical community is taking action against climate change. The last few years were some of the hottest years on record, and what’s worse, this trend shows no signs of slowing down. With temperatures rising, doctors are starting to talk to their patients about the effects of climate change. All that extra heat and humidity can put certain patients at risk, including those suffering from chronic conditions like asthma and lung disease.

More healthcare leaders and organizations are urging political leaders and the federal government to do their part in the fight against climate change. Take a closer look at how these developments are creating new conversations between doctors and their patients.

How Climate Change Affects Your Health

Climate change is no longer tomorrow’s problem; it’s affecting the health and wellness of people all over the world. The planet’s average surface temperature has gone up by about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 19th century, and most of that warming has occurred within the last 35 years. This has led to longer, more intense heat waves, tropical storms and wildfires, and more pollen. Here’s what these changes mean for your health:

  • Heat waves

In the U.S., heat waves are the deadliest form of extreme weather. Increased temperatures can lead to heat exhaustion, heat stroke, reduced cognitive abilities, longer allergy seasons, starvation, dehydration, poor mental health, and increased air pollution, which makes it harder to breathe.

  • Trouble Breathing

Patients struggling with asthma, lung disease, or poor air quality may have trouble breathing during a heat wave. Doctors will often tell their patients to stay indoors during the hottest months of the day. They may also advise them to drink more water or to carry around a portable tank of oxygen when it becomes difficult to breathe.

  • Poor Mental Health

Patients struggling with depression and thoughts of suicide may be more likely to take their own life during a heatwave. Studies show rising temperatures can lead to negative feelings and increase the rate of suicide, especially in low-income neighborhoods and communities.

A recent study from the Nature Climate Change journal predicts that climate change will lead to anywhere between 14,000 and 26,000 additional suicides in the U.S. alone.

  • Longer Allergy Seasons

With more pollen in the air, we’re starting to see longer allergy seasons, which can make dangerous asthma attacks all the more frequent. Patients will spend more time sniffling and sneezing than in years past.

These are just a few of the ways climate change can affect your health and the health of your patients. Climate change tends to affect urban and low-income areas more than rural areas. All that cement and concrete makes it feel hotter in these neighborhoods, while wealthier and less urban areas tend to have plenty of trees and shade.

Taking a Stand Against Climate Inaction

Temperatures continue to climb here in the U.S. and abroad. As the effects of climate change worsen, healthcare providers are starting to draw a connection between climate change and the reality their patients are dealing with. Doctors will now regularly talk to their patients about how climate change can affect their health and precautions they should take to protect themselves, especially those with patients in low-income areas. Some healthcare facilities will even hand out pamphlets on the effects of climate change to help inform their patients.

Back in June, 70 healthcare institutions and facilities, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Heart Association, issued a call to action asking the U.S. government, businesses, and leaders to recognize climate change as a health emergency. The World Health Organization has also referred to climate change as “the greatest health challenge of the 21st century.”

As time goes on, climate change will continue to infiltrate nearly every aspect of modern human life. Increased rainfall, rising sea levels, food shortages, heat waves and other extreme weather-related incidents can lead to a range of catastrophic outcomes.

Fighting climate change will ultimately come down to public awareness. The more your patients understand the effects of climate change, the more they will work to prevent these outcomes, such as voting for politicians and supporting businesses that respect the environment.

Consider educating your patients on the effects of climate change to help spread the word.

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