Climate change a major threat to respiratory patients: ERS


By Ellie Philpotts

10 Sep 2023

People with asthma and COPD face extra risks from climate change, which their clinicians should try to counteract by advocating for climate-friendly policies in clinical practice, an expert report has claimed. 

According to a position statement published by the European Respiratory Society [link here] heatwaves, wildfires and flooding are set to exacerbate breathing difficulties for millions of people. 

The consequences of climate change included the interaction between air pollution and pollen/aeroallergen exposure. “Poorer air quality and increasingly frequent and severe wildfires and dust storms can impair lung function and growth, particularly in children, and increase the risk of hospitalisations and death,” stressed the authors, including Imperial College London’s Environmental Research Group. Meanwhile, heavy rainfall and flooding contribute to more humidity and mould within the households. 

Urgent action is needed

However, the international authors have encouraged respiratory clinicians to take action against climate change by promoting green prescriptions, such as inhalers and active transport. They can also promote smoking cessation and identify their most vulnerable patients to help public health officials target their interventions.

The ERS calls on physicians and other health professionals around the world to serve as role models and unite in this huge endeavour to advocate for the protection of our planet and for the health of people who live and depend on it. We have reached a point of no return,” the report stated.

As the recent extreme weather events have shown, we need to prepare our community for a much more complex future adapting to the ever-increasing impact of climate-related respiratory disease”. 

Professor Zorana Jovanovic Andersen, study author and Chair of the European Respiratory Society’s Environment and Health Committee, said: “Climate change affects everyone’s health, but arguably, respiratory patients are among the most vulnerable. These are people who already experience breathing difficulties, and they are far more sensitive to our changing climate. Their symptoms will become worse, and for some this will be fatal.

“Air pollution is already damaging our lungs. Now the effects of climate change are becoming a major threat to respiratory patients.”

“As respiratory doctors and nurses, we need to be aware of these new risks and do all we can to help alleviate patients’ suffering,” Professor Jovanovic Andersen said. “We also need to explain the risks to our patients so they can protect themselves from adverse effects of climate change,” she added.

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