Scientists the globe over have observed changes that are impacting individuals' health and have also created models to predict where we might be headed. Here's a sampling of what we could be discussing with our doctors in the decades to come.
Stepped-up sniffling. Allergies—from ragweed in the fall to tree pollen in the spring—are predicted not only to become stronger but also to enjoy lengthened seasons because of less frost and earlier blooming. Fungal spores (those outdoors and in moist basements) will most likely thrive, tickling the throats of many.
Algae-related complaints. Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, thrive and bloom in the rising temperatures of bodies of water, from municipal water systems to the Great Lakes and Florida's Lake Okeechobee. The algae have been linked to digestive, neurological, liver, and dermatological diseases.
Painful kidney stones. Because of higher temps and more dehydration, the crystallized calcifications that must be passed—often painfully—through the urinary tract could plague an additional 2.2 million people a year by 2050, researchers estimate. The current "kidney stone belt," which includes southern states like Florida, the Carolinas, and Arkansas, could extend up into Kentucky and northern California.
Exotic infections. Dengue fever, malaria, and encephalitis, while not exactly household names, have seen U.S. outbreaks and upticks in incidence in recent years. Mosquitoes and plankton, which flourish in warmer water temperatures, play a key role in transmitting such diseases.
Itchier cases of poison ivy. Poison ivy appears to become more potent as carbon dioxide levels rise, research has suggested.
Surplus of stings. Alaska's warming has heralded a sixfold rise in severe stings reported, and the buzzing bees, wasps, and yellow jackets are showing up in spots never before seen. Alaska may be a harbinger for the rest of us, as its temperature changes have been the most significant in the United States.
Fewer fruits available. The value of crops produced in the Yakima River Valley—more than 6,ooo square miles of orchards and farmland east of Seattle—may drop almost a quarter as temperatures rise over the coming decades. Less water for irrigation from nearby mountain snowpack could drive down fruit availability and drive up the cost of the produce.
Upsurge in summertime hacking and wheezing. Cool breezes coming down from Canada could diminish, driving up ozone pollution at ground level—particularly in the Northeast and Midwest—say some Harvard scientists. Possible result: irritated lungs, especially in people with respiratory illness.
Deluge of heat-wave deaths. Already a risk to the very young and the very old in the summer months, strings of hot and humid days are expected to become more frequent and more severe, says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In California, for example, such deaths could double by 2100.
Bigger coastal storms. The flooding associated with the likes of Katrina and Ike and the physical and mental stresses that ensue are expected to occur more frequently as storms surge around the world. By 2050, a 1-foot rise in sea level is predicted, which could worsen flood damage by 36 to 58 percent.