How Does Climate Change Affect Your Health? 7 Surprising Ways Your Body Responds To The Phenomenon
We're all familiar with the ways in which climate change is messing with our planet and causing serious damage to our days — from extreme weather events to the threat of mass wildlife extinction. But climate change can also affect your health, and in ways that may surprise you. The consequences of increased greenhouse gases, natural disasters, and a hotter planet can be far-ranging and a bit unexpected. And they include everything from your allergies to your medication intake, and even the management of mental illness.
Health crises due to climate change have already begun to affect the world's more vulnerable populations for a while, as famine, drought, pollution, and other serious issues are exacerbated in countries with less infrastructure to cope with them. But climate change is affecting our physical and mental health in more subtle ways, too. New research is constantly emerging to explore links between climate change and disease, stress, infection and the immune system, while at the same time, the EPA is being forced to remove references to climate change from its website, according to CNN. Climate change is real, it's happening now, and it affects human existence and health in ways that are unexpected and intense. Here are seven of the most surprising ways climate change is affecting our bodies.
1. It's Messing With Your Allergies
If you've noticed that your asthma and allergies have been getting worse over the past few years, you're likely not imagining it. According to the World Health Organization's research, high temperatures don't only make respiratory disease worse through raising pollutant levels in the air. They also trigger a lot of pollen release and shift the ways in which allergens are released into the air, increasing the health problems of those with hayfever and allergies. Warmer temperatures and higher levels of CO2 mean more pollen release by plants, and a lot more pain and annoyance for people with respiratory issues.
2. It's Increasing The Incidence Of Lyme Disease & Other Illnesses
The higher the temperatures, the more risk there is of flooding and the spread of water-borne diseases, as well, all across the globe. A 2013 study of flooding across Europe found that as floods increased, so did the rate of three kinds of illness: water-borne (which cause things like diarrhea), rodent-borne (which are viral or bacterial and carried by rats) and vector-borne (which includes all infections spread by mosquitos, ticks, flies, and fleas). The higher the temperature spike, a United Nations study found, the more likely that a geographical region is going to start dealing with problematic diseases like these.
3. Higher Heat Makes You Vulnerable To Heat Stress
Living in a hotter climate is (obviously) not all fun on the beach. A United Nations collection of studies shows that heatwaves produce heat stress, an unsustainable spike in body temperature, which "make working conditions unbearable and increase the risk of cardiovascular, respiratory and renal diseases." This is particularly a problem in cities, which tend to heat up really fast, and a 2017 study found that by 2050, the amount of city-dwelling people who will be at risk of heat stress will climb by 350 million.
4. It Will Affect Your Medications
Too much reliance on medication isn't good for the body. However, a 2013 study has found that as illnesses produced by climate change skyrocket, we're all much more likely to be taking high levels of medication to feel healthy. Between infections caused by natural disasters, allergies, and predicted rises in things like mosquito-borne diseases, it's predicted that we'll become much more dependent on medication including antibiotics and analgesics. This is a problem because antibiotics are already facing a crisis: people are developing resistance to the ones we have, and we can't produce new ones fast enough to combat disease.
5. Extreme Temperatures Are Bad For Your Mental Health
Experiencing a natural disaster has well-documented adverse affects on mental health. But even experiencing a temperature spike is hard for those living with mental health issues. Research shows that extremes in temperature, particularly heat, are linked to seriously bad outcomes for those who suffer from mental health issues. The US Global Change Research Program put together research in 2016 that showed that the heating world "is associated with increased incidence of disease and death, aggressive behavior, violence, and suicide and increases in hospital and emergency room admissions for those with mental health or psychiatric conditions." Their six studies discovered that in heatwaves, people who've already been diagnosed with a mental illness face bigger risks of mortality, for reasons that aren't entirely clear — but may have to do with how physical stressors, like heat, impact your psychological well being.
6. It Might Be Messing Up Your Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle can be affected by a lot of outside influences, and it turns out that it's also at risk of being influenced by climate change. If women are exposed to polluted air as teenagers, according to a 2018 study, it raises their risk of irregular periods as adults. The reason behind it may be in the way air pollutants affect hormone levels and human metabolism, but we're not entirely sure why. If you grew up in a polluted area, though, there's a strong chance that your period is all over the place.
7. Temperature Extremes Raise The Likelihood Of Premature Birth
If you're pregnant, the extremes of climate change on global temperatures, from spikes in heat to intense blizzards, may be concerning. Several studies have found that extreme temperatures raise the risk of premature birth in pregnant mothers. A study in Australia found that extreme heat raised the risk by 1 to 2 percent and cold by up to 10 percent, while another by the National Institutes Of Health noted that extreme temperature exposure early in pregnancies, for the first seven weeks, increased the rate of premature births significantly.
It's pretty clear that climate change isn't good news for any area of human health, from lung function to menstrual cycles, and a vast collection of science backs it up. It's time for governments to take proper action to stop us all getting far sicker and reduce the risks posed to every population on Earth.