January 15


Help, Help, It’s Hard to Breathe: The Looming Asthma Crisis Amid Climate Change

January 15, 2024

Vol. 104 No. 02

The air will choke us all to death if we do nothing about it. Climate change is a pressing issue that the whole world is suffering from and air quality is negatively impacted by it. By not addressing the decrease in air quality, we are all collectively jeopardizing our ability to breathe. Those with pre-existing conditions and minorities will suffer the most from this. Like myself, someone who has asthma and a person of color will suffer disproportionately to others.

As a born and raised New Yorker, this issue is very personal. Walking the streets of Brooklyn, I am affected by secondhand smoke, vehicle exhaust and decreased air quality. New York City had a taste of a significant decrease in air quality caused by climate change last summer as the city was covered in a cloud of smoke from the Canadian wildfires. If you are without a pre-existing condition, the only thing you may have noticed is how the sky looked like something out of a horror movie, but as an asthma sufferer, I was concerned about my health every time I left the house. I am sure others like me constantly checked the air quality index after the smoke went away to see when the numbers would finally get back down.

As a country, we need to be more aware of people living with asthma since the CDC reports the prevalence of asthma is increasing in the U.S. In a densely populated place like NYC, many people are going to suffer from breathing problems from the poor air quality and climate change is going to exacerbate the problem. Just like most health issues, the burden will disproportionally fall on people of color.  

In NYC, minorities are going to disproportionally experience the negative consequences of climate change. The is shown by an EPA report stating that Black and African-American individuals are 34% more likely to be living in areas with the highest projected increases in childhood asthma diagnoses. This number will rise to 41% as global warming continues. With this data, it is evident that socioeconomic status has a significant impact on asthma and overall health. Everyone, regardless of their background, deserves a future where they can breathe easily.  

As we continue to see the effects of climate change, we will see an increase in asthma. The EPA states that there will be an increase in childhood asthma diagnoses between 4% and 11% annually due to climate-driven causes. Climate change is increasing the numbers of those with asthma, and it is decreasing the quality of the air. These two factors together will lead to a future where people will find it hard to breathe in our environment. As a society, we need to find a way to protect those who have asthma now and in the future.  

“Help, help, it’s hard to breathe.” These are the words that we will all be saying if we continue the way we are. We need to save ourselves from ourselves, and the only way to do it is by actively working to stop the consequences of climate change. It will be hard but not impossible. Let’s clear up the air today so we can breathe easier tomorrow.  

Laurie Williams is currently pursuing a Master’s in Public Health at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology from Hunter College. Laurie’s professional background includes working in a hospital’s case management department where she engaged with the complexities of patient care and learned firsthand about the challenges individuals face in managing chronic conditions. Laurie also shadowed infection preventionists where she got a comprehensive understanding of healthcare practices and the critical role of preventive measures. Being born and raised in New York, Laurie possesses a firsthand understanding of the difficulties faced by individuals with pre-existing conditions residing in densely populated urban areas.

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