Why Dermatologists Should Care About Climate Change

The 2019 American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Annual Meeting was held in Washington, DC in early March 2019. One of this year’s highlights was the recognition by the AAD of the emerging health care crisis related to climate change. In early 2018 an Expert Resource Group (ERG) was formed for Climate Change and Environmental Affairs. In the past 18 months, this group of dermatologists has drafted and gotten approval by the AAD of a formal position statement on climate change and skin health, as well as getting the AAD to join the Medical Society Consortium for Climate and Health. Just before the meeting, AAD partnered with MyGreenDoctor.org to offer this service to all its members. MyGreenDoctor.org is an easy, web-based program focused on helping to reduce the carbon footprint of individual, group and even large health care practices as well as providing valuable patient educational resources.

The ERG members put on a two-hour educational session with lectures on dermatologic effects of climate change including increasing infections from vectors (ticks and mosquitos) that are moving northward due to warming of the environment (dengue, zika, lyme, chikungunya, various systemic fungal infections and even leishmaniasis. Also reviewed were dermatologic consequences of major weather events like floods, hurricanes, fires, etc with major injuries, stress related disease flaring (psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, alopecia areata), atypical infections related to stagnant water immersion, etc. Sunscreen use along with protective clothing and shade seeking are all integral to help prevent skin cancer. The roles of several sunscreens that have been targeted for eventual discontinuation, due to potential environmental damage when these wash off us and into the oceans, was also reviewed at this session. New sunscreens and better formulations are needed in the U.S. before we eliminate the ones we have, and the FDA is considering several efforts to improve both the safety and efficacy of these agents as well as bringing other products into the U.S. from Europe where many more options for sunscreens exist.

The Climate Change & Environmental Affairs ERG held a two-hour brainstorming session and will begin developing task forces on all these major areas where the skin is impacted by our changing climate. Advocacy to lower our individual carbon footprints and those of our professional societies, as well as providing patient education and leadership to help mitigate the health consequences of climate change were emphasized. Maximizing communication amongst the membership, and alliances with other groups within the AAD and in other professional organizations around climate and environmental issues are among the goals for the coming year.

David FIvenson, MD is an immunodermatologist from Ann Arbor, MI who has published over 130 peer reviewed articles, participated in over 200 clinical trials and has taught many residents about complex medical dermatology. He is well recognized for his expertise in autoimmune bullous diseases, connective tissue diseases and management of severe psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. He is also become quite involved in climate change and how it impacts his dermatology patients. He has no relevant conflicts of interest to provide this summary.

Illustration by April Brust

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