ER visits for respiratory illness spike before storms, study finds

Emergency room visits involving respiratory illness jumped the day before a thunderstorm, likely due to changes in atmospheric conditions, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found.

Researchers examined public weather data for all 3,127 U.S. counties between 1999 and 2012. They compared this information to Medicare data on more than 46.5 million patients who visited ERs for acute respiratory illnesses over the same time period. 

Researchers found ER visits rose 1.2 percent overall the day before major storms. There were an average of six more visits per million Medicare beneficiaries among patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. This figure jumped to 9.4 extra visits per million beneficiaries among those with both conditions. 

Changes in temperature and the concentration of particles in the air may cause the spikes, researchers said. 

As global warming causes more severe storm activity, hospitals may see additional strain on their ERs from patients with respiratory illnesses, they concluded.

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