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Elemental
Your life, sourced by science. A publication from Medium about health and wellness.

Environment

In Elemental. More on Medium.

The world may be at a standstill, but science marches on

Environmentalist taking water sample
Environmentalist taking water sample
Photo: Sean Justice/Getty Images

Along with practically everything else, the pandemic has put a moratorium on countless field studies and clinical trials that aren’t Covid-19-related. For example, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies’ fieldwork involving mapping the disrupted circadian rhythms of night-shift workers like firefighters had to be put on hold because firefighters are needed as first responders to viral outbreaks now. At Cornell University, a study on how insects fly involving genetically engineered fruit flies came to a halt when the physics labs were shuttered, and a month’s worth of fly breeding had to be thrown out.

Some of these setbacks could cause…


If you’re suddenly sneezing your head off, you’re not alone. Here’s why, and what to do.

Photo: PeopleImages/Getty Images

The 2020 allergy season will be “brutal,” AccuWeather meteorologists predict, and the misery is well underway across much of the country. Indeed, Clifford Bassett, MD, founder and medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, says we are in the midst of an “allergy explosion.” “I’m seeing more and more first-time sufferers of all ages,” he says. And according to Melanie Carver, vice president of Community Health at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), which tracks such trends: “Each pollen season has been progressively worse than previous seasons.”

The main culprit behind the sneezing is pollen…


Stop the madness, CVS

Photo: Ziga Plahutar/Getty Images

If you’ve ever stepped foot in a CVS, chances are you’ve crossed paths with a receipt worthy of a gold medal performance in rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympics. “Why are CVS receipts so long?” is a popular topic on social media. The slick, flimsy paper tentacles have extended themselves into internet culture with people posting pictures of themselves next to a receipt as tall as they are, dressing up as a CVS receipt for Halloween, and even invoking them in royal wedding memes.

But behind the innocuous folly is an environmental — and health — crisis. Every year, the…


Coughing and itchy eyes are only the beginning

Credit: APU Gomes/Getty

As I write this, Northern California’s Kincade Fire in Sonoma County covers 113 square miles — roughly double the size of the entire city of San Francisco. In Southern California, the Getty Fire rages, threatening thousands of homes as well as the priceless art of the famous Getty Museum. Several other fires have sparked up over the past several days; meanwhile, the state’s two main utility companies, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, are intermittently shutting off power to millions of Californians in an attempt to stave off any additional fires caused by their aging, volatile equipment.

Even…


The New New

From sewer sludge to mosquito repellant, one scientist is exploring how daily exposures determine our health

Illustration: Kevin VQ Dam

Our health is a combination of genetics and environment. Maybe someone’s genes make them vulnerable to high blood pressure, for example, but by watching what they eat — in effect, controlling their body’s environment — they can keep their numbers within normal levels.

Right now, we know a lot about the genetics side of this combination, as an explosion of research has yielded incredible detail about people’s genetic profiles. We also have insight into how our internal bacterial environments — the microbiome — impact our health. But the environmental piece of the puzzle is still fuzzy. …


Psychologists weren’t exactly trained to counsel clients through the destruction of the planet

Photo: fizkes/Getty Images

For the better part of a year, a young man in Melbourne had been struggling with insomnia, depression, and anxiety. He heard strange voices, stopped going to school, and contemplated suicide. As his condition worsened, he spent more time online, reading about climate change. Before long, he had convinced himself that he was personally responsible for the depletion of the earth’s water supplies. He compulsively checked the faucets at home, fearing that a leaky tap could deprive “millions of people.” By the time he was admitted to the inpatient unit at Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, he was trying not to…


The use of agricultural fungicides may be planting the seeds for a new global health threat

Illustration: Haein Jeong

A woman puts on her gardening gloves and plunges her spade into the earth. As she digs and plants all afternoon, thousands of microscopic fungal spores are released from the soil and enter the air, where they enter her body through her nose and mouth and try to colonize her organs. If the spores succeed, an infection will take hold in her lungs. Depending on the woman’s health, she may have a 25% to 90% chance of dying.

This isn’t science fiction; this is normal life for every human being on earth. Scientists estimate we inhale between one and 10…

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