How to Protect Your Health in a Changing Climate

We can all take steps to prepare for the impacts of climate change and care for our health. These actions, in turn, can protect our health and provide us with a greater sense of security and self-efficacy. Here are examples, below.

Active Senior Couple
Actions by Impact

 Extreme Heat 

  • Learn to recognize the signs of heat illness, including headache, nausea, confusion, dizziness, weakness, irritability, thirst, heavy sweating, and elevated body temperature​

  • Check weather reports for the following day to plan your activities accordingly.

  • Identify places in your community where you can go to escape the heat and cool off, such as libraries and shopping malls, or contact your local health department to find a cooling center in your area. Do not rely on a fan as your primary cooling device.

  • Stay hydrated, drinking at least 8 cups or 64 ounces of water per day.

  • Wear loose fitting clothing made of lightweight and light colored fabric, and a wide brimmed hat if you will be somewhere without shade.

  • Weatherize your home. Cover windows with drapes or shades. Weather-strip doors and windows. Use window reflectors specifically designed to reflect heat back outside. Add insulation to keep the heat out. Use a powered attic ventilator, or attic fan, to regulate the heat level of a building’s attic by clearing out hot air. Install window air conditioners and insulate around them. Learn about programs to offer financial support for home weatherization from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Air Quality

  • Check daily air forecasts in your area and plan your day accordingly.

  • Learn to recognize signs of asthma or heart distress including difficulty breathing, chest pressure or pain, cough, wheezing, fatigue, swelling in the legs, ankles or feet, feeling weak, light-headed, or faint, pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, arm, shoulders or back.

  • Avoid exercising or playing outdoors when pollution levels are high and always avoid exercising near high-traffic areas. 

  • Find additional tips from the American Lung Association.

Severe Weather Events

  • Understand your local weather, the kinds of hazardous weather that affects your community, and the kind of impacts disaster events can have on your health.

  • Ensure you can be reached by your local emergency alert system, you have the ability to reach others in the aftermath of severe weather, and that you have information or ways to reach your neighbors.

  • Understand the medical needs of yourself and your family, including medications. Ask your pharmacist to explain and provide documentation on the side effects of your and your family’s medications, proper storage instructions, and include a listing of this information in your emergency kit.

  • Post a list of emergency contacts and services in a common area like on the refrigerator.

  • Make a family emergency plan with guidance, templates and free kits from the Red Cross.

  • Get disaster-specific guidance and help.

Vector-Borne Disease

  • Learn about the vector-borne disease risks in your area.

  • Wear protective clothing, including long sleeves, pants, and closed-toed shoes when spending time outside.

  • Check for ticks after spending time outdoors in nature (you, pets).

  • Use nets to protect against mosquitos.

  • Use repellent and find other guidance from the CDC.

Water-Borne Disease

  • Over 7 million Americans get sick every year from diseases spread through water. Learn about water-borne disease outbreaks in your area.

  • Learn the signs of water-borne illness including diarrhea, stomach aches or pain, dehydration, nausea and vomiting, gas, and weight loss.

  • Test your tap water, filter or boil water from natural sources when you are in nature. 

  • Mind the guidelines for healthy swimming at public pools or swimming at the beach.

  • Avoid entering lakes or streams with harmful algal blooms, and keep pets and livestock from entering too.

  • Wash your hands well and other relevant areas after being in touch with affected water. If needed, follow washing with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Actions at Home
  1. Have an emergency plan. For example, emergency-preparedness organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Red Cross, suggest having a household emergency plan that everyone is aware of and has practiced. Awareness of your work or school’s emergency plans is also critical to ensure a comprehensive plan. Having a plan also helps to alleviate anxiety or worry, and instills a sense of control and security.

  2. Create an emergency kit. Include items such as a flashlight, food and water, first aid supplies, and other things one might need during or after a disaster. Additionally, include books, religious literature or other spiritual items, journals, toys, or treats, that can support mental health resilience. Look for opportunities to donate items for emergency kits to local mutual aid efforts. Free kits are offered by the Red Cross.

  3. Stay physically active. Researchers have demonstrated the importance of staying physically active. Physical activity helps strengthen health, regulate mood and boosts confidence, which can be useful if one must endure through trauma. Stay active, and encourage friends, family and neighbors to join you.

  4. Share concerns with othersSeventy-five percent of Americans are concerned about climate change, including 45% who are very concerned, however only 14% of us think others around us are concerned. Sharing climate concern alleviates anxiety, gives permission to others to recognize their own concerns, and builds belonging. Seeking support from a mental health professional can further build resilience.

  5. Bolster your sources of support. Because of the tremendous benefits of social support, it is essential that you nurture your connections to family, friends, neighbors, and other important social ties, such as people from your faith community.

  6. Reduce your climate impact. Similar to creating an emergency plan and kit, taking active steps to address the problem of climate change can reduce anxiety or worry and build a sense of control and security. Steps that individuals can take at home and in their everyday lives include conserving energy, installing insulation, weatherizing, shifting to renewable energy, switching to an electric car, using public transit, and planting native species. One area for change that is often overlooked is food consumption: eating less meat and reducing food waste can both make a significant difference in household climate footprint.

Ready for more? Now that you understand how to care for your health in a changing climate, learn how to share the information with others, invite participation, and advocate with elected leaders with ClimateRx engagement and advocacy resources.