Findings from a literature review examining the impact of extreme weather events on skin health suggest that climate change will worsen underlying health disparities in marginalized populations. The study authors write that improving extreme weather-related skin health outcomes will require a comprehensive approach involving clinical practice, research, and public policy.
The findings were published in The Journal of Climate Change and Health.
“We wanted to provide dermatologists and other practitioners with a comprehensive overview of extreme weather-related skin disease as a foundation for patient education, implementation of early treatment interventions, and improved disease outcomes,” said lead author Dr. Eva Rawlings Parker in a press release. “We were astounded by the sheer breadth of impacts that extreme weather events have on skin disease and how profoundly climate change exacerbates inequality.”
Dr. Parker is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Department of Dermatology and the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn.
In their review, Dr. Parker and her colleagues cite nearly 200 articles documenting the myriad impacts of extreme weather events on skin.
They note that flooding, one of the most common natural disasters, is linked to traumatic wounds and bacterial and fungal infections of the skin. Flooding is also commonly associated with contact dermatitis due to flood water contaminated with pesticides, sewage, fertilizers, and other irritants.
Exposure to wildfire smoke is mentioned as a trigger for atopic dermatitis in adults with no prior diagnosis, and it can trigger or exacerbate acne.
Heat waves can also lead to skin issues, they write. They note that chronic inflammatory dermatoses are exacerbated by heat and that some infectious diseases can be seasonal, with heat and humidity increasing the risk of common cutaneous infections.
Extreme heat events can also influence behaviour, such as driving people to spend more time outdoors and increasing exposure to air pollution, UV radiation, and insects.
Dr. Parker and her colleagues observed that extreme weather events disproportionately affect marginalized and vulnerable populations and widen existing health disparities.
Children, pregnant women, the elderly, people with mental health illnesses, racial or ethnic minorities, low-income individuals, homeless individuals, and migrants are especially vulnerable to climate-related effects.
The authors note that Black and Hispanic populations and lower-income populations are more likely to live in areas at higher risk for flooding. These populations also have a greater incidence of skin disease and less access to care. Extreme heat is also an occupational hazard for manual labourers and migrant workers.
“This year has been marked by historic and deadly heat waves in North America, Europe, and Asia; devastating flooding in the United States, Pakistan, and Australia; drought and famine in Somalia and Madagascar; and wildfires in the Western US, Russia, Argentina, and throughout Europe. Extreme weather events are ravaging the planet, disrupting critical infrastructure, severely impacting health, and accentuating health disparities,” said Dr. Parker. “Clinicians, policymakers, environmental advocates, and researchers across the globe should be acutely aware of the current and future disruptions that climate change and extreme weather events pose to human health.”
Dr. Parker and her co-authors suggest that further population-based, clinical, and occupational health research is needed to better define the risk for adverse health outcomes from extreme weather events. They also write that there is a need to identify sensitive populations, focus on just and equitable strategies for resiliency and adaptation, and assess the influence of social factors on the relationship between exposure and health outcomes.