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6 Surprising Ways Climate Change Impacts Health

When you think about climate change, you probably picture intense storms, droughts or other dramatic weather-related events. These types of disasters have a huge impact on public health, but climate change also impacts our health in other, less visible ways. These are some surprising ways in which climate change is harming human health right now.

These are some surprising ways in which climate change is harming human health right now.

How Climate Change Impacts Health

1. Kidney Stones

Kidney stone cases are on the rise, and climate change may just be the culprit. A 2014 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives looked at over 60,000 people in five major cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

They found that temperature increases up the chances of people developing kidney stones (aka nephrolithiasis). The study authors wrote that, “With the continued threat of climate change, it is important to quantify the impact of temperature on nephrolithiasis.”

2. Heart Disease

A 2015 German Weather Service report looked at how climate change-related heat waves impact heart health across different regions of Germany.

They found that long periods of hot weather are tough on our cardiovascular systems. In fact, if you already have a heart condition, a heat wave can increase your risk of mortality by as much as 15 percent. It’s especially dangerous if temperatures spike quickly from day to day.

3. Asthma

About 25 million people in the U.S. suffer from asthma. Diagnoses have been on the rise, and climate change may be part of the problem.

Pollen is a major trigger for many people with asthma, and a changing climate is good news for many pollen-producing plants. Warmer weather means a longer allergy season, which translates to more asthma attacks.

4. Nutrition

Climate change is making our food less nutritious. A 2014 study found that plants exposed to more CO2 produce fewer nutrients, like zinc, iron and protein.

What’s interesting is that climate change can actually increase yields for certain crops, which seems like a good thing. But one of the study authors explains that when you increase quantity, you see a decrease in quality. You also see more damage from pests, which actually means less food security, not more.

5. Flu Trends

Warmer winters actually lengthen and strengthen flu season. In fact, flu season—which used to run for about seven months—is now year round in some parts of the world.

This might seem confusing, since flu season happens during the colder months, but a 2013 study found that when we have warmer winters, we tend to get an early flu season that is more severe than average. That’s because during a warm winter, fewer people get the flu. That means less herd immunity going into the next flu season.

6. Mental Health

Climate change doesn’t just impact physical health. Extreme weather impacts our mental health in a number of ways.

After a climate change-related natural disaster, like a hurricane, it’s common to see widespread depression, anxiety and PTSD. Often, though, these mental health impacts of climate change aren’t as obvious.

Heat waves, for example, increase stress and anxiety both directly and indirectly. Warm weather exacerbates anxiety. Impacts from warm weather can also harm our mental health, especially for people—like farmers—whose livelihoods depend upon the weather.

The physical health issues associated with climate change are also bad news for our mental health. Care2′s S.E. Smith explains that you can’t think of physical and mental health as separate things. They’re deeply intertwined. When you or a loved one is suffering from a physical health condition, it impacts your mental health as well.

Images via Thinkstock.

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