People living with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) will see their lives made harder as climate change increases heatwaves, pollen, dust storms and wildfires, researchers have warned.

Climate change is increasing temperatures, which is pushing up airborne allergens, such as pollen, more of which are produced in warmer weather.

The changing climate is also fuelling more frequent extreme weather events such as heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, leading to extreme air pollution and dust storms, as well as heavy rainfall and flooding, leading to higher humidity and mould in the home, according to a study published in the European Respiratory Journal.

“We are very concerned by these findings, as we are witnessing an unprecedented number of climate change extreme events this year,” Professor Zorana Jovanovic Andersen, of Copenhagen University, told i.

“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.”

“The scale and frequency of extreme weather events in 2023 is just beyond our imagination. From wildfires in Canada and record-breaking air pollution episodes in New York City and the rest of South Eastern Canada and North West US in early May, to Hawaii’s devastating fires in August, several heatwaves in Europe (including the earliest one on record), devastating fires in Greece, Tenerife, flooding in Northern Italy, droughts in Spain, wind and rain storms in Croatia and Slovenia, just to mention few,” said Professor Andersen, Chair of the European Respiratory Society’s Environment and Health Committee.

She added: “People with asthma are especially sensitive to all climate change related exposures, hot and humid air, pollution episodes from wildfires, ozone exposure from rain and thunderstorms, humidity from rains storms and flooding.

Asked if there was a big difference between 1.5°C or warming or 2°C – we are currently around 1.2°C – Professor Andersen said: “Yes, there are very significant and striking differences, with much more significant and unforeseen weather impacts at 3°C. We must prioritise policies and actions to mitigate climate change and slow global warming right now.”

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