A group of lung doctors warned Thursday that climate change will likely lead to an increase in the rate and severity of a variety of respiratory diseases.
"We felt as though the medical community was not understanding how climate change might impact patients and their health," says Kent Pinkerton, director of the Center for Health & the Environment at the University of California-Davis. Pinkerton says the warning came out of a meeting of top climate change scientists and lung doctors that discussed the potential impacts of global warming on patient health.
"It was an eye opener for us as we began to talk to climatologists and other individuals to find out how climate change can have far-reaching effects," he says. It's not just pollution's impact on air quality that's causing an increasing number of cases of asthma, allergies and chronic pulmonary diseases, according to the document.
Climate change may also lead to more mold created by flooding from storms, heat wave deaths, a longer pollen season, and can shift ranges of certain disease-causing animals, such as mosquitoes.
Between 2001 and 2009, the number of Americans diagnosed with asthma grew by 4.3 million. The number of black children diagnosed with asthma rose by more than 50 percent during that time. An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, and research by the National Institutes of Health suggests that the number of Americans suffering from allergies is on the rise as well.
Pinkerton says doctors and their patients need to be aware of the impact climate change can have on air quality.
"Clinicians need to be aware of the need to educate their patients about how climate change might be impacting air quality," he says. "They need to be aware of how changes in weather patterns might exacerbate their asthma or make it harder to breathe."