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Global warming: A major threat to your health

When you think of global warming, you likely think of it in environmental terms: melting polar ice caps and long droughts, heat waves and other extreme weather events. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization, the phenomenon also poses a major threat to our health.

Global warming is an increase in the Earth’s average temperature, which causes increased or decreased rainfall and rising sea levels. While these may not seem to be connected to your well-being, you can directly or indirectly link them to:

  • Heatstroke. Global warming may cause extended periods of excessive heat, which is bad news for those who are susceptible to the effects of high temperatures, including older people, children and those with heart problems and asthma. Excessive temperatures can lead to heatstroke, which causes your body temperature to soar to 104° F or higher and can lead to coma. Global warming may have been to blame for the 2003 heat wave in Europe, which, by some estimates, killed more than 30,000 people.
  • Breathing problems. Higher temperatures and strong sunlight are contributing factors to the increase in dangerous ground-level ozone. Ground-level ozone can damage lung tissue and makes breathing more difficult, especially for those with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other chronic lung diseases.
  • Allergies. Climate change can also worsen allergies. It seems increasing temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels lengthen ragweed season and cause higher pollen production.
  • Heart problems. Some studies have found that soaring temperatures and high ozone levels can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke and aggravate heart conditions in those who already have them.
  • Insect-borne disease. While milder winters may seem like a blessing, they can be a curse. Not having those chillier temperatures means disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes and ticks don’t die off and are present in greater numbers the following season, prolonging the transmission period of diseases like West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
  • Gastrointestinal illnesses. As the climate changes, the risk of extreme weather events such as flooding and hurricanes increases. When these disasters occur, the excess rainwater they produce can cause rivers, lakes and other bodies of water to overflow, possibly tainting local drinking water supplies and giving rise to diseases like cholera.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) damage. Unlike that found at ground level, ozone found miles above the Earth has a protective effect. As this good ozone is depleted, higher amounts of UV radiation can reach the Earth. With repeated unprotected exposure to UV rays, we can expect an increasing number of skin cancers and cataracts.

Want to help reverse the trend? Contact nonprofit environmental organizations like the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org) to find out how you can help protect the Earth—and your health.


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