Temperature Variance and Air Pollution

Impact heat (waves) on health

Heat waves can have serious implications for human health, including dehydration caused by increased sweating, heat exhaustion leading to symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, dizziness, and headaches, and potentially life-threatening heat stroke if left untreated. High temperatures can also worsen pre-existing respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD due to increased air pollution and difficulty in breathing in hot and humid weather. Cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and stroke may also increase during heat waves as the heart has to work harder to cool the body down. Additionally, prolonged exposure to high temperatures can affect mental health, causing irritability, anxiety, and depression.

Impact air pollution on health

Air pollution can have serious health consequences, including respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and infections like pneumonia. It is also linked to cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke due to inflammation and damage caused by the particles in air pollution in the bloodstream. Long-term exposure to air pollutants is associated with an increased risk of cancer, including lung cancer. Additionally, air pollution can have neurological effects such as memory loss, decreased cognitive function, and reproductive problems, including infertility, miscarriage, and premature birth. To minimize exposure, individuals should avoid areas with heavy traffic or industry, use air purifiers or masks when necessary, and support policies that reduce air pollution. Seeking medical attention is important if experiencing related symptoms like difficulty breathing.

What are the components of air pollutions

Particulate Matter (PM): Particulate matter consists of tiny particles or droplets in the air, categorized by size into PM10 and PM2.5. PM2.5, being finer, can penetrate deep into the lungs and bloodstream, posing serious health risks. Ozone (O3): Ground-level ozone, a key component of smog, forms when NOx and VOCs react under sunlight. It can cause respiratory problems and aggravate lung diseases. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2): A reddish-brown gas with a sharp odor, NO2 is produced from vehicle and industrial emissions, contributing to smog and respiratory issues. Fine Dust: Often synonymous with PM2.5, fine dust includes tiny particles that can deeply penetrate the respiratory system, leading to various health problems.

Sources of Air pollutants

Air pollutants can be exacerbated through climate change and environmental conditions. Hotter, drier conditions increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires, contributing significantly to PM and fine dust levels, while altered precipitation patterns can lead to dustier conditions. Warmer temperatures accelerate the chemical reactions needed to form ground-level ozone, worsening smog in urban areas. Additionally, climate-induced higher temperatures raise energy demands for cooling, often met by burning fossil fuels, thereby increasing emissions of both NO2 and particulate matter from power plants. Shifts in weather patterns and societal responses to changing climatic conditions, such as increased vehicular use for cooling or longer commutes due to habitat changes, further contribute to elevated levels of these pollutants. Mitigating climate change through renewable energy adoption and improved energy efficiency can thus directly benefit air quality by reducing emissions of harmful pollutants.

Impact of extreme weather events on health

In recent years, extreme weather events such as hurricanes and floods have become increasingly frequent and have a direct impact on human health.  Extreme cold can lead to health problems like hypothermia and frostbite, which pose a higher risk to vulnerable populations. Flooding can cause waterborne diseases, mold growth, and can contain dangerous chemicals and pollutants. Similarly, hurricanes and severe storms can cause physical injuries and mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The disruption of healthcare services and infrastructure can also have long-term health consequences. It is, therefore, essential to consider the effects of these events on human health when preparing for and responding to them.

Climate change impacts on mental health

Climate change has profound impacts on mental health, manifesting through direct and indirect pathways. Extreme weather events like hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, exacerbated by climate change, can lead to immediate psychological trauma, as well as long-term mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and a sense of loss. The chronic stress of experiencing or anticipating the effects of climate change, including displacement, loss of property or livelihood, and concerns over future conditions, can also erode mental well-being. Additionally, the indirect effects of climate change, such as economic instability and increased conflict over diminishing resources, contribute to anxiety, stress, and societal disruption. The pervasive sense of environmental grief or eco-anxiety—worry about the planet’s future—further underscores the mental health challenges posed by climate change, highlighting the need for comprehensive approaches to mental health support as part of climate resilience and adaptation strategies.

Source: https://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/en/observatory/evidence/health-effects/mental-health-effects

The role of health professionals to mitigate health impacts of climate change

Climate change poses a significant public health challenge, and health professionals have a vital role to play in addressing its impact on human health. They can raise awareness of the health risks associated with extreme weather events, air pollution, and other climate-related factors, and advocate for policies and practices that promote public health and address the root causes of climate change. Additionally, health professionals can provide medical care and treatment for patients affected by climate-related health problems, participate in research to better understand the link between climate change and health, and develop new strategies for addressing these challenges. By adopting sustainable practices in their personal and professional lives, health professionals can also serve as role models in mitigating the impact of climate change and can create co-health benefits that both benefit human and planetary health.

Health protective measures depending on level of air pollution

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI) is a tool used to communicate how polluted the air currently is or how polluted it is forecast to become. Public health risks increase as the AQI rises. Different pollutants are measured in the AQI, including ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. Based on the AQI value, the EPA provides recommendations on outdoor physical activity, especially for sensitive groups such as people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and teenagers. The general health protective measures based on AQI categories can be consulted in the figure and are an example of how to provide public health advice based upon environmental risks.