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Earth Day: Researchers Studying Climate Change And Its Health Impacts

MIAMI (CBSMiami) -- Earth Day is on Friday, April 22, and researchers are looking at how climate change and rising temperatures could be threatening our health.

When wildfires fill the California sky with smoke, Brandon De La Paz feels the pain.

"I do remember going out and just kind of breathing in the air and it just hurt a little more than usual," he said. De La Paz has asthma and could be facing many more days of discomfort.

A Princeton study finds that in parts of northern California, the warming climate could cause particle pollution from wildfires to increase more than 50% by the middle of the century. Those tiny particles have been linked to cardiovascular disease and bronchitis. And for asthma patients, the effects can be life-threatening.

"It feels like you're breathing out of a straw," said Dr. Purvi Parikh from the Allergy & Asthma Network. "And so, as you can imagine, that can be quite uncomfortable, quite scary. People don't realize that we see deaths every day from asthma."

As temperatures rise, so do pollen counts. That's because a warmer Earth means longer growing seasons, giving plants more time to shed the pollen that causes allergies. A study from the University of Michigan finds that at the current rate of rising temperatures, by the end of the century, spring pollen season is projected to start about 40 days earlier and last up to 19 days longer than it does now.

Dr. Parikh recommends allergy shots for desensitizing her patients.

"And what that does is that it eventually makes them stop reacting. So, many of those individuals actually have had a very easy pollen season compared to those who aren't on it because their immune systems are not as reactive anymore," she said.

The CDC says as many as 60 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies each year, a headache that will likely get worse.

Scientists also warn that climate change will trigger more heavy rainfall and flooding which, along with hot weather, may increase waterborne diseases.

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