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Your Environment. Your Health.

Asthma, Respiratory Allergies and Airway Diseases

Climate and Human Health

Kid using an asthma inhaler

Climate change is expected to affect air quality through several pathways, including production and allergenicity of allergens and increase regional concentrations of ozone, fine particles, and dust. Some of these pollutants can directly cause respiratory disease or exacerbate existing conditions in susceptible populations, such as children or the elderly. Some of the impacts that climate change can have on air quality include:

Health Impacts

  • Increase ground level ozone and fine particle concentrations, which can trigger a variety of reactions including chest pains, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion, as well as reduce lung function and cause inflammation of the lungs
  • Increase carbon dioxide concentrations and temperatures, thereby affecting the timing of aeroallergen distribution and amplifying the allergenicity of pollen and mold spores
  • Increase precipitation in some areas leading to an increase in mold spores
  • Increase in rate of ozone formation due to higher temperatures and increased sunlight
  • Increase the frequency of droughts, leading to increased dust and particulate matter

Adaptation and Mitigation

  • Mitigating short-lived contamination species that both air pollutants and green house gases, such as ozone or black carbon. Examples include urban tree covers or rooftop gardens in urban settings
  • Decreasing the use of vehicle miles traveled to reduce ozone precursors
  • Utilizing alternative transportation options, such as walking or biking, which have the co-benefit of reducing emissions while increasing cardiovascular fitness and contributing to weight loss.  However, these activities also have the potential to increase exposure to harmful outdoor air pollutants, particularly in urban areas.
  • Increasing the use of air conditioning can alleviate the health effects of exposure to chronic or acute heat.  However, this can potentially result in higher greenhouse gas emissions depending on the method of power generation

Research Needs

  • Developing and validating real-time remote sensing and other in situ monitoring techniques to evaluate air quality, aeroallergens, aerosolized pathogens, dust burdens, and other climate-sensitive exposures directly linked to asthma and airway diseases
  • Understanding and modeling the impact of climate change on air quality, aeroallergens, and aerosolized marine toxins, and the resulting effects on asthma and airway diseases including in vulnerable populations
  • Identifying and mapping populations and communities at increased risk of climate-related respiratory disease, which will also help to identify populations at risk for other climate-related health impacts as many environmentally mediated diseases share common risk factors
  • Studying the health effects of airborne and indoor dust on asthma exacerbation, including changes in dust composition resulting from climate change
  • Understanding the acute and long-term impacts of wild fires on asthma and other respiratory diseases
  • Examining chemicals used in energy efficient technologies to ensure that they do not contribute to lung sensitization, asthma, or other respiratory diseases
  • Examining the relative risks for respiratory disease based on chemicals with lower global warming potential than existing greenhouse gases

For more information, please visit the chapter on Asthma, Respiratory Allergies, and Airway Diseases in A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change (Full Report) (4MB) .

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