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A recent study presented at the ATS 2024 International Conference revealed that extreme heat events were associated with an increase in asthma hospital visits among children seeking care at a pediatric health center in California. Lead author Morgan Ye and her team analyzed electronic health records from 2017 to 2020, focusing on asthma hospital visits at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, including patients from the Federally Qualified Health Center. They also looked at demographic information like zip codes and utilized data from the PRISM Climate Group to track daily maximum and minimum temperatures in the region’s warm season.

The researchers explored the impact of different heat wave definitions on asthma hospital visits and found a significant association between daytime heat waves and a 19 percent increase in the odds of hospital visits for children with asthma. Moreover, longer duration heat waves doubled the risk of hospital visits. Interestingly, nighttime heat waves did not show any association. Ye emphasizes that with rising global temperatures due to climate change, there will likely be more frequent and severe heat waves, which can lead to a higher risk of asthma exacerbations, predominantly affecting children and families with lower adaptation capacity.

Previous research has suggested positive associations between extreme heat and asthma, but conflicting results regarding hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Additionally, many studies have focused on respiratory hospitalizations overall, rather than specifically on asthma hospitalizations or on vulnerable populations like children. This study is unique as it investigates the effects of daily high temperatures as well as persistent extreme temperatures, shedding light on the disproportionate impact of climate-sensitive events on vulnerable groups.

The study’s focus on the San Francisco Bay Area and California as a whole is particularly significant due to the region’s lower prevalence of cooling units like air conditioners. While the area may not experience extreme heat as in other parts of the country, even milder heat waves can have a substantial impact on health, especially for susceptible populations like children and medically vulnerable individuals served by urban pediatric health centers. The authors stress the importance of using these findings to inform targeted interventions and resources to improve health outcomes and reduce disparities faced during climate-sensitive events.

As the research shows, understanding the effects of extreme heat on vulnerable populations is crucial for mitigating the burden of disease stemming from climate change. With the expected increase in heat-related health issues, it is essential to identify susceptible populations and implement targeted interventions to provide better support during heat waves. By addressing these heat-associated health risks, healthcare providers and policymakers can work towards more equitable outcomes and reduced disparities in vulnerable communities, ultimately leading to improved public health outcomes.

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