Climate Change Heating Up Respiratory Diseases

Rising temperatures may increase asthma allergy and respiratory disease incidents

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Mild winters and warmer weather year round may have some negative side effects. A new position paper believes that climate change will be responsible for even more respiratory disease cases.

Experts speculate that climate change might increase the number of future respiratory disease incidents worldwide. Researchers believe that warmer weather will increase the number of allergy and asthma cases.

The number of transmittable diseases, such as the flu, cases will also increase because of rising temperatures.

"Ask your doctor about risk factors for respiratory diseases."

The position paper was co-authored by William Rom, professor of medicine and environmental medicine at the New York University School of Medicine and Kent Pinkerton, director of the University of California Davis Center for Health and the Environment .

A committee of 10 members, from the American Thoracic Society, were chosen to debate the possible impact of climate change on the future of respiratory diseases. The committee featured members from Asia, Africa, Europe, America, the Middle East and India.

A position paper is different than a research study because, while both try to answer a question, the position paper is theoretical. In this case, experts who are members of the American Thoracic Society were asked about how climate change may affect the number of global respiratory disease cases.

Using current observations and studies, the experts came up with possible outcomes for the question of climate change and its impact on respiratory diseases.

The Earth is over four billion years old and has undergone several climate changes in its history. The Ice Ages are two examples of severe climate change in the Earth's history. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), between 1500 and 1850, the Little Ice Age occurred and the average global temperature was two degrees colder than today, although the temperature varied by region.

Dr. Pinkerton believes that poor air quality caused by increased air pollution and smoke caused by wildfires will lead to more respiratory disease cases in the future. Wildfires will increase because of warmer weather, according to Dr. Pinkerton.

The number of dust particles in the air, caused by an increased number of dust storms caused by desertification, will also lead to more respiratory diseases cases, speculates the committee.

The committee believes that climate change will play a large role in the increased numbers of respiratory diseases because of current observations. Mold spores that were once only found in Central America have been found as far away as Vancouver.

Warmer climates have led to common diseases from the Mediterranean traveling up to Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Warmer weather in the future may spread diseases and other irritants to new areas thus affecting more people, according to the committee.

Warmer winters in the future could lead to increased pollen counts due to longer blooming seasons. Warm weather might also lead to more heat waves which will increase the number of lower-respiratory infections and worsen asthma symptoms.

Heat waves cause more ground-level ozone which reduces air quality and increasing the number of respiratory disease cases.

The committee believes that infants, young children, the elderly and people who already have respiratory diseases are at the most risk. Public health measures are needed to reduce air pollution and also create support systems for future climate-related incidents, conclude researchers. 

This current position on the climate's affect on respiratory disease is what experts believe will happen in the future based on current evidence. New evidence or new climate control measures may affect the expert's opinion on climate change's impact on respiratory diseases.

No funding information was provided. 

This paper was published in the March edition of the Proceedings of the American Thoracic Society.

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Review Date: 
March 13, 2012
Last Updated:
March 15, 2012