Health-harming extreme heat, driven by climate change, on the rise

June 24, 2022 – Excessive heat—the number one killer of all natural disasters—has been on the rise over the past decade, and experts expect it to get worse because of the climate crisis.

A June 15, 2022 CNN noted that, already this year, high temperatures prompted excessive heat advisories from the National Weather Service for a large swath of the U.S., doctors have encouraged people to stay indoors, and schools have closed.

Common heat-related conditions include heatstroke, which can lead to disability or death, and heat exhaustion, which can include symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and headache. High temperatures can also strain the heart or impair breathing, worsen mental health issues, or harm pregnant women.

While the elderly, children, and people with chronic diseases and mental health issues are most at risk from heat-related illness, even people who are young and otherwise healthy can be harmed, Aaron Bernstein, interim director of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (Harvard Chan C-CHANGE), told CNN.

In a recent study, Bernstein found that, across the U.S., increasing numbers of children are winding up in emergency rooms during the summer because of heat exposure. He noted that a child born in the U.S. today will experience five times more life-threatening heat events than a child who was born in 1961. Furthermore, he said, although “climate shocks” don’t kill as many children as elderly people, they can add stress on a child’s life, propelling problems such as substance use, cancer, or heart disease.

“We need to focus on these climate shocks and buffering children, because they can pose such lifelong health threats,” Bernstein said. “It is devastating to your lifetime health potential.”

Bernstein was also quoted on several other climate-related health issues in recent news articles. He spoke about how climate change is propelling the spread of diseases that jump from animals to humans, like monkeypox, in a June 23 Boston Globe article and in a June 7 Inside Climate News article. Also, in a June 3 Cape Cod Times article, he noted that climate change is causing pollen seasons in the northern U.S. to begin two to three weeks earlier than they did in the late 1970s and 1980s, thus worsening people’s allergies.

Read the CNN article: Extreme heat is bad for everyone’s health — and it’s getting worse

Read the Boston Globe article: Climate change is increasing the spread of illnesses like monkeypox

Read the Inside Climate News article: As Animals Migrate Because of Climate Change, Thousands of New Viruses Will Hop From Wildlife to Humans—and Mitigation Won’t Stop Them

Read the Cape Cod Times article: Ah-choo! Climate change causing longer pollen seasons and aggravating people’s allergies

Learn more

Hot days are sending higher percentages of kids to the ER (Harvard Chan School news)

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