WHAT DOES GLOBAL WARMING MEAN FOR CHRONIC PAIN?
Updated: Sep 15
According to NASA, the earth’s surface temperature has risen by almost one degree since the late 19th century. This warming effect appears to be speeding up, with the six years since 2014 going down as the hottest ever on record. By 2050, we could be looking at a further one-degree increase.
This net increase of two degrees doesn’t sound like much, but it actually translates to much hotter temperatures in certain areas. For example, a global two-degree increase could take the UK’s average temperature up by six degrees. If you’ve ever sweltered through a hot summer’s day or struggled to get to sleep on a stuffy night, turning up the temperature by six degrees sounds like a terrible idea!
And that’s just talking comfort. What about our health? For those of us who suffer from chronic pain and other major conditions, what does this alarming increase in temperature mean for our health and wellbeing?
There have been plenty of studies about what the escalating temperature means on a global level – e.g. rising sea levels, floods – and what it means on a local level – e.g. road repairs from heat and flooding. But so far, little attention has been paid to what it means for the chronically ill.
We know that heat impacts certain chronic health conditions in numerous ways. These include:
Arthritis can get worse in humid weather and during extreme weather changes.
Heat can cause dehydration and muscle cramps and spasms, which can worsen existing pain from conditions like arthritis and fibromyalgia.
Heat can make it difficult to exercise and stay active, worsening existing joint and muscle pain.
Other medications can make it difficult for your body to regulate its temperature.
Increased pollen activity can aggravate allergies.
Humidity and heat above 32°C can cause flare-ups of COPD, asthma, bronchiectasis and other respiratory conditions.
Hot air can cause inflammation in the airways and increase the risk of hospital admission in people with COPD.
Hot weather causes the blood vessels to widen, aggravating vascular conditions like Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) warns that even normal seasonal shifts in temperature are known to cause such problems. During periods of especially hot weather, they note an increase in heat-related illnesses, as well as accelerated deaths and increased hospitalisation for chronic illnesses. They also point out that this puts a significant strain on health services, causing hospital overcrowding, delayed treatment and slower emergency response times.
Even before the pandemic, the publicly funded NHS was at breaking point, so the increased burden of heat-related illness over the coming years could prove more than it can handle. Without some significant research into the impacts of global warming and the chronically ill, as well as a serious conversation about risk and service planning, we could be heading for yet another serious health crisis.
That’s where Weather Flare aims to help. For people experiencing chronic conditions like arthritis and COPD, the Weather Flare app helps them to predict weather triggers, plan ahead and manage their symptoms. As the app develops, we also plan to incorporate weather-related medication alerts and other helpful features. Weather Flare doesn’t just benefit the user directly, though.
While Weather Flare is helping people to manage their symptoms, it’s collecting (completely anonymous!) data that can help health agencies with weather-based risk planning. It can establish patterns to demonstrate a need for interventions in certain locations or patient groups, and even help to measure their success. This ultimately means better care for chronic pain sufferers.
Chronic pain costs the economy billions every year in healthcare, social support and lost labour. Helping people to relieve the personal burden of chronic pain and to access more appropriate, effective care powerfully impacts all three. This is especially relevant given the current economical demands on these systems in light of the COVID-19 crisis. As global warming progresses, it will only become more critical.
We’re currently in the beta testing phase of the Weather Flare app. We’re trying to make it as helpful as possible for people with chronic conditions, so we’d love your feedback on what’s working for you and what we could improve. Download the beta Weather Flare app now on iOS and Android to get started!