Spring is in the air a little earlier this year, but don’t go celebrating just yet.
This year’s weather is shattering norms. Washington, D.C., for example, not only had the warmest February on record, but last month’s temps already surpassed the average records for March, too. The situation is similar for a lot of other spots across the country, and that could be bad news when it comes to public health.
Experts theorize climate change may be part of the cause of this year’s early spring phenomenon, and warn the overall warming of the planet can have physical and mental health consequences. Below are just a few ways the rising temperatures can take a toll on our wellbeing.
An earlier spring could lead to an increase in illness.
When the weather is colder, the chances of mosquito or other critter-borne illnesses is lower, since the insects don’t typically thrive in the cold. Experts are concerned that the early spring could impact the spread of illnesses like Zika and Lyme disease, Time reported earlier this week. Flooding from rains and premature snow melting could also contribute to this issue.
“An overall warming trend opens up the chance for [ticks and mosquitoes] to live in new places and to stay alive for longer periods of time,” Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Health and the Global Environment, told the publication.
Hotter temperatures might put strain on the heart.
Warmer temperatures combined with high pollution levels may create a perfect storm when it comes to poor heart health.
A 2011 study found an association between hotter months and a lower heart-rate variability (the term for the time that passes between heartbeats, which indicates how effectively the heart is working). Lower heart-rate variability may cause an increased risk of death in the case of a heart attack. Researchers also said high temperatures were more likely to affect cardiovascular function when the ozone levels were also high, which can be caused by global warming.
It’s important to note that this specific study studied these effects only in elderly men in Boston, so it’s difficult to know if the conclusion represent the population as a whole. Either way, though, it could be an example of the dangers of increasing heat.
Climate change could aggravate asthma or allergies.
Researchers theorize that rising temperatures could make allergy and respiratory conditions worse, affecting millions of people annually. An early spring also brings early seasonal sniffles, making the spring pollen season longer. Rising carbon dioxide levels and higher heat can produce more flower blossoms, which then can increase pollen levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This can exacerbate allergy symptoms like sneezing, congestion, breathing difficulties and more.
It raises food safety concerns.
Climate change may not just influence the body, but what we put in it as well.
Warmer weather is more likely to breed bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses like salmonella, according to the EPA, and this can cause gastrointestinal issues, among other symptoms. Rising sea temperatures from climate change may also drive up the ocean’s mercury concentration, tainting seafood as well as potentially “introducing contaminates into the food chain” through stormwater runoff, according to government climate researchers.
It could negatively affect mental health.
A body of research suggests climbing temperatures could harm psychological wellbeing. Researchers believe hotter weather can increase the risk of aggression or violent deaths by suicides, including a potentially higher rate of suicides in farmers due to more droughts. Climate change may also raise the risk of weather-related disasters like massive storms, which could lead to cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
All things considered, we’d rather have regular winter weather.