What a Drought Can Do to Your Health

People with heart or lung disease or asthma are particularly at risk due to the poor air conditions resulting from a drought.

The United States Drought Monitor map depicts California in an "extreme" drought state as of Jan. 14, 2014. More than 60 percent of the state has lower than normal water supplies.
The United States Drought Monitor map depicts California in an "extreme" drought state as of Jan. 14, 2014. More than 60 percent of the state has lower than normal water supplies.
Is your skin feeling drier than usual? Is this dry cold air parching your throat, your sinuses? Do you have a chronic cough?

Well, you could blame it all on the drought.

Droughts can have some physical side effects, some of them life threatening in severe situations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says:

"During droughts, dry soils — and often wildfires — increase the amount of airborne particles, such as pollen and smoke. These particles can irritate the airways and worsen chronic respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Poor air quality can also increase the risk of respiratory infections, such as bacterial pneumonia and valley fever, a fungal infection and common cause of pneumonia in many areas of the southwestern United States, Mexico, Central and South America."

Symptoms of valley fever include fever, chest pain, coughing, rash and muscle aches. Some people are at increased risk for developing disseminated infection, including those who have weakened immune systems, are in their third trimester of pregnancy, or who are of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Filipino descent.

According to the EPA, particulates in the air can cause:
  • premature death in people with heart or lung disease;
  • nonfatal heart attacks;
  • irregular heartbeat;
  • aggravated asthma;
  • decreased lung function; and
  • increased respiratory symptoms, such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

Because the water supplies are not being refreshed, water quality can become compromised, making animals sick and contaminating the food supply from start to finish.

Even playing in the water can be more dangerous, so watch your dogs and kids, who can become ill by being exposed to cyanobacteria, single-celled organisms that live in fresh, brackish, and marine water, and use sunlight to make their own food. In warm, nutrient-rich environments, microscopic cyanobacteria can grow quickly, creating blooms that spread across the water’s surface and may become visible. 

Some cyanobacteria that can form produce toxins that are among the most powerful natural poisons known. These toxins have no known antidotes. CyanoHABs can make people, their pets, and other animals sick. Often, the first sign that an HAB exists is a sick dog that has been swimming in an algae-filled pond. 

And if that's not enough, droughts can increase the likelihood of diseases transmitted by mosquitos and pests, including West Nile virus, encephalitis, Lyme disease and Hanta virus.

Some tips for protecting yourself

Pay close attention to heart attack symptoms of chest pain, palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath.

If you have asthma, follow your asthma management plan closely.

Watch your activity level when outdoors. Walk instead of jog, don't exercise near busy roads or plan to be outside when air quality is better.

And pray for rain.


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