Environmental issues, public health and the role of nurses

As environmental factors such as climate change and air pollution continue to impact public health, it’s important for nurses to be aware of these problems so they can help to mitigate them. Harmful pollutants in the air can increase rates of lung cancer, heart disease, and asthma, while extreme weather can lead to all kinds of health problems, including dehydration and physical injuries. 

When nurses understand the impact of environmental factors on public health, they can help to educate communities, advocate for sustainability and promote healthy living. Below, we discuss the impact of environmental issues on public health and how nurses help mitigate them.

How environmental factors impact public health

With factors such as air pollution and climate change being linked to increasingly negative health trends, more and more people are being admitted to the hospital due to environmental decline. Here are some of the ways in which problematic environmental changes impact public health: 

Heat-related illnesses

As the impact of climate change continues to manifest, it has become increasingly evident that it is not solely an environmental concern but also a matter of public health. Among the most hazardous consequences of climate change to human well-being are heat waves, which can lead to severe heat-related ailments such as dehydration, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke. Particularly vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, children, and individuals with chronic health issues, are at a higher risk of experiencing such conditions. Additionally, heat waves can have detrimental effects on mental health, contributing to anxiety and depression.

To minimize the impact of heat waves on public health, it is crucial to implement measures to help adapt to the changing climate. This includes raising awareness about the risks associated with heat waves and implementing strategies that prevent heat-related illnesses. These strategies may include staying hydrated, avoiding strenuous outdoor activities during peak heat hours, and seeking air-conditioned spaces. Healthcare professionals, such as nurses, can play a significant role in educating the public about these strategies and identifying high-risk individuals to help prevent heat-related illnesses from occurring.

Cardiovascular and respiratory diseases

Exposure to air pollution is a significant risk factor for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and lung cancer. The quality of air that we breathe is critical to our overall health and well-being. Air pollution is a complex mixture of multiple pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and fine particulate matter, which can have severe consequences on human health. Fine particles are particularly concerning, as they penetrate the lungs deeply, resulting in inflamed lungs and damaged respiration. 

Vector-borne diseases

The rising occurrence of irregular temperature and precipitation patterns is causing significant implications for human well-being. The most notable consequence is the likelihood of a change in the spread and distribution of vector-borne illnesses, such as malaria and Lyme disease. These diseases are carried by insects such as mosquitoes and ticks, which prosper in warm and humid environments.

As the climate changes, it creates more favorable circumstances for these insects to breed and survive, leading to an upsurge in infections. It’s vital to adopt measures that can help prevent the proliferation of vector-borne illnesses, including raising public awareness, boosting monitoring activities, and implementing insect population control. Initiatives such as these can aid in reducing the harmful impact of climate change on human health.

Increased healthcare costs

The increasingly evident consequences of climate change and air pollution have emerged as significant threats to human health and well-being. The surging levels of temperature and air pollution have been associated with the prevalence of numerous ailments, including respiratory illnesses, heat-related disorders, and vector-borne diseases.

These illnesses are causing a considerable escalation in healthcare expenses, creating a burden on individuals, healthcare systems, and governments. These expenses include direct costs, such as medical treatment and hospitalization, as well as indirect costs, such as a decline in productivity and a compromised quality of life. Consequently, it is imperative to implement measures that can alleviate the impact of climate change and air pollution on human health, thereby reducing the associated healthcare costs.

The role of nurses in reducing the impact of environmental factors on public health

Highly educated nurses, such as those who’ve completed a Hybrid Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing at an institution like Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, are equipped to mitigate the health implications of environmental decline. As this particular program and institution focus on nursing innovation, the impact of environmental factors on public health is a huge concern. Here are some of the ways in which nurses help to reduce the negative consequences of environmental factors on public health:

Educating communities

Nurses hold a crucial position in raising awareness among individuals and communities about the potential health hazards associated with environmental factors such as climate change and air pollution. They can offer insights into the symptoms of respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, heat-related illnesses, and vector-borne diseases, in addition to providing practical advice on ways to minimize exposure to air pollution and mitigate the impact of climate change on health.

Additionally, nurses can collaborate with local health agencies and environmental organizations to design and execute awareness campaigns focused on environmental health issues. These campaigns can foster healthy habits and practices, create awareness and promote positive changes that enhance both individual and public health. In summary, nurses have the potential to make a significant impact by contributing their expertise and resources toward addressing environmental health issues.

Emergency response

The increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events and other natural disasters due to climate change have made the role of nurses in emergency response more critical than ever. Nurses are essential in providing medical care and aid to affected individuals and communities during these crises. They may be responsible for evaluating and treating injuries, managing chronic health issues, and offering emotional support to those impacted.

In addition, nurses are instrumental in working with other healthcare professionals and emergency responders to ensure that care is delivered promptly and efficiently. Their expertise and proficiency in emergency response make them an indispensable part of disaster response teams. To mitigate the public health consequences of climate change-induced natural disasters, it is crucial to provide nurses with the necessary training and resources to prepare them for such situations.