All of us either have or know someone who has experienced symptoms caused by allergies or asthma. In fact, the percentage of people with asthma and allergies has increased significantly worldwide over the past several decades.
People with these conditions are often aware of environmental factors that trigger their symptoms, causing itchy eyes, runny noses, wheezing, and coughing. Avoiding these triggers may help, if they are obvious, however, people may not always know what exposures to avoid, since they can change over time.
Cause and effect
Even before being born, a child’s future health can be affected by their mother’s health, including her exposures at work and home, antibiotic use, diet, and whether she smokes. From childhood to adulthood, living in indoor environments with pets and pests, dust, and particles that are brought in from outside can further affect health, especially for people sensitive to certain indoor allergens.
Outdoor allergens, such as pollen and mold, can make you sick, leaving an impact beyond the seasonal exposure. Exposure to environmental ozone and pollution, such as smog and soot, have immediate and long-term effects on the development and severity of allergies and asthma.
Research has shown recent trends like vaping have immediate, negative health impacts, but the longer-term effects are still unknown. These factors affect our bodies throughout our lives, so it’s important to be aware of our exposures and know what we can do to better manage and reduce these risks.
Time for a change
Factors that affect public health are important to manage and control. Changes in our environment and climate increase the severity of allergic and respiratory diseases, which in turn affect productivity and well-being. More frequent and abrupt changes in weather, leading to severe storms, flooding, and wildfires, are all reminders of these changes.
Everyone is affected by the environment, and children, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases are the most vulnerable. Coming together to raise awareness of the crucial link between our environment and health, and finding ways to reduce these risks, will benefit everyone’s health.
Ahila Subramanian, M.D., Allergist, Cleveland Clinic, and Sumita Khatri, MD, Co-Director, Cleveland Clinic Asthma Center, [email protected]