The climate crisis is making people sicker—worsening illnesses ranging from seasonal allergies to heart and lung disease.
Children, pregnant people and the elderly are the most at risk from extreme weather and rising heat. But the impact of the climate crisis—for patients, doctors and researchers—is already being felt across every specialty of medicine, with worse feared to come.
“There’s research suggesting that our prescription medications may be causing harm because of changing heat patterns,” said Aaron Bernstein, a pediatric hospitalist who is the co-director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University.
“There’s evidence that extreme weather events are affecting critical medical supplies so we can’t do things as we normally would do because IV fluids aren’t available.
“And there’s evidence that extreme weather events are knocking out power more and more, and that is a huge issue for providing care in healthcare facilities.”
In a recent example, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Associationfound that lung cancer patients undergoing radiation were less likely to survive when hurricane disasters disrupted their treatments.
An August article in the New England Journal of Medicine lays out dozens of similar studies to show how the climate crisis affects each practice of medicine. Renee Salas, a co-author of the report, who teaches emergency medicine at Harvard Medical Schoolsaid: “The climate crisis is impacting not only health for our patients but the way we deliver care and our ability to do our jobs. And that’s happening today.”