What does air pollution, wildfire smoke and ragweed pollen have in common? All can set off asthma flareups that have people reaching for their asthma treatment inhaler.
Young children may be more vulnerable to climate effects on lung health. Their lungs are still developing. Plus, the article states that they breathe at a faster rate, which increases their exposure to air pollutants that can damage their lungs.
Here's a look at the sometimes surprising connections between asthma and climate change.
You may know ground-level ozone better by its other name: smog. This form of air pollution is a powerful lung irritant that can make asthma worse. A study in young children showed that long-term exposure to this kind of air pollution increased the risk of being hospitalized for asthma.
Ground-level ozone is created when certain pollutants chemically react in the presence of heat and sunlight. These pollutants are emitted by motor vehicles, power plants, refineries, chemical plants, and other sources. They are most likely to reach unhealthy levels on hot, sunny days. So, higher temperatures due to climate change can lead to more ozone-related asthma problems.
Another type of air pollution, called particle pollution, is composed of a mix of tiny solid and liquid particles in the air. When breathed in, these particles can make asthma worse.
One source of particle pollution is wildfire smoke. Since the 1980s, hotter, drier conditions due to climate change have led to a longer wildfire season across about one-fourth of the world's vegetated land. But you don't have to live in a fire-prone area to be affected, because wind can carry particle pollution hundreds of miles away.
In nearly 90% of children with asthma, symptom flareups can be triggered by inhaling substances to which they're allergic. The same is true for half of asthmatic adults. Plant pollens are a common trigger for allergic asthma.
Rising levels of carbon dioxide drive the warming of the planet. But they also fuel plant photosynthesis. The combination of warmer temperatures and more carbon dioxide means that plants are making more pollen than they otherwise would.
Climate change is a concern for most of us, but it can also be an important health issue, too.