The official blog of the Lung Institute.
The summer heat and humidity can make it difficult to breathe for even the healthiest person. For people suffering from a chronic lung disease like COPD or pulmonary fibrosis, outside factors like temperature, pollution and humidity can have a huge impact on flare-ups, shortness of breath and other aggravating symptoms.
What Is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive lung disease that makes it difficult for sufferers to breathe. Characterized by the restriction of airflow in and out of the lungs, COPD is an umbrella term that includes conditions like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. A sufferer often experiences difficulty doing simple tasks as a result of the limited amount of oxygen reaching her or his lungs; this often results in the use of supplemental oxygen. Despite the additional oxygen, COPD sufferers are faced with flare-ups that leave them breathless and dizzy. Higher temperatures can add another layer of difficulty to sufferers’ lives.
The Effect of High Temperatures on COPD
Extreme temperatures can lead to additional shortness of breath as your body works harder to maintain a normal body temperature. Keeping your body at a safe and healthy temperature—when exposed to warmer weather— requires additional oxygen. When the human body is exposed to warm air, the airways in the lungs constrict, which leads to a bronchospasm. In just a split second, the bronchioles become inflamed and contract in response to the warm air. This ultimately causes the lung airways to become smaller, which makes it more challenging for air to pass into and out of the body. For someone suffering from COPD or another debilitating lung condition, this may sound like a nightmare. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to combat higher temperatures and the related flare-ups.
Managing Warmer Weather with Lung Disease
As we enter the hotter months of the year, it is essential to take precautions and to create a plan of action. Since the hot temperatures are forcing your body to work overtime to cool off, you will also need to work hard to limit the unintended side effects of summer. By adding a few simple lifestyle modifications, you can enjoy the beauty and fun of summer without many consequences.
Plan Some Indoor Activities
COPD does not mean you should give up on summer fun, but by planning a few indoor activities every week, you can minimize the toll of hot outdoor weather. Spending some of the sunny hours in a cool, air-conditioned location can make a huge difference in your daily energy levels. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home, plan your day at places that do—a shopping mall, a library or friend and family member’s home.
Schedule your Time
If you usually exercise or relax outdoors, you may choose to take it indoors, or you could decide to exercise and relax outdoors in the early morning or later in the evening when the heat and smog levels are typically lower. By spending time outdoors when the sun is not directly overhead, you can limit your exposure to dangerous UV rays; not to mention, you can avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day.
By far the most important advice for anyone in the summer is to always drink water and stay hydrated. By increasing your water and juice consumption, and minimizing your coffee, tea, soda and alcohol consumption, you can minimize the chances of becoming dehydrated. Children and individuals over 65 years of age are at a higher risk of dehydration.
- Age-Related Risk: As the body ages, the kidneys are unable to conserve as much water to maintain fluid balance and commonly thirst dwindles with age.
- Mobility Effects: Individuals with decreased mobility frequently do not meet their own optimal health needs; this could mean access to a drink of water may be harder than it seems.
- Disease-Related Reasons: Infections such as pneumonia can increase the need for fluids due to fevers and the overproduction of mucus. Lung conditions like COPD are worsened by dehydration. In fact, by staying hydrated, sufferers can actually minimize their symptoms, as additional water will reduce the viscosity of their mucus.
Treat your Condition
Not to state the obvious, but improving your condition can make a huge difference on your ability to enjoy the summer. Now, thanks to medical advancements like stem cell therapy, COPD sufferers are finally breathing easier. Patients report a higher quality of life and the opportunity to get back to the life they want.