News Briefs Archive

How Climate Change Could Mean More Patients for ODs

July 24, 2019

A consequence of climate change that is rarely discussed is a longer allergy season. A warmer climate means a longer time for plants to flower, and for pollen to flourish, according to reporting by Martha Bebinger of NPR.

That could mean more patients in your office complaining of ocular allergy symptoms.

In June, the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Heart Association were among 70 medical and public health groups that issued a call to action asking the U.S. government and business leaders to recognize climate change as a health emergency.

Bebinger speaks with pulmonologist Mary Rice, who says she sometimes needs to explain the connection to patients between a longer warm season and respiratory and allergy symptoms. “Because of global warming, the plants are flowering earlier in the spring. After hot summers, the trees are releasing more pollen the following season. And the ragweed — it’s extending longer into the fall,” Rice tells a patient.

Patients may wonder why their ocular allergies are getting worse, but you may need to tread cautiously in your conversation about it.

Some doctors worry about challenging a patient’s beliefs on the sometimes-fraught topic, Dr. Nitin Damle, the past president of the American College of Physicians, told Bebinger.

“It’s a difficult conversation to have,” says Damle, who practices internal medicine in Wakefield, R. I. “Many people still think it’s something they’re not going to be affected by, but it’s really not true.”

Damle says he “takes the temperature” of patients, with some general questions about the environment or the weather, before deciding if he’ll suggest that climate change is affecting their health.

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