The Changing Climate:Managing Health Impacts

Concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at increasing rates, heating the Earth’s surface and destabilizing climate. Health impacts from climate change may include increased morbidity and mortality from worsening cardiopulmonary health, worsening allergies, and greater risk of infectious disease and mental illness, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder from extreme weather events. Family physicians should advise patients to minimize exposure to air pollution, which is potentiated by rising temperatures. Use of self-monitoring devices, tracking local weather information, and awareness of events such as wildfires can alert patients to poor ambient air quality. Vulnerable individuals should avoid intense outdoor exercise and stay indoors or wear protective N95 masks when air quality is in the harmful range. Physicians can teach patients to recognize early symptoms of heat illness and advise adequate hydration and cooling on hot days. Physicians should become aware of the signs and symptoms of vector-borne illnesses to ensure early treatment and limit spread. Physicians should be aware of the climate and health benefits of active transport and plant-based diets when counseling their patients. Physicians can have a positive impact on climate change awareness and policy by incorporating counseling, public health precepts, and advocacy into their practice.