Summer should be all about relaxing and having fun, but the hot, humid weather of the season can ruin the good times for people with COPD. Both heat and high humidity levels increase the risk of a COPD flare up. When getting enough oxygen is a challenge in the first place, overheating should be avoided at all costs. Learn more about exactly why breathing becomes a challenge in the summer heat and how to prepare for it.
COPD Worsens in the Summer
- Extra exertion. Summer heat puts stress on the body. The body must put in extra work to maintain a regular temperature, which demands more oxygen, causing people with COPD to experience even more shortness of breath than normal.
- Bronchospasm. Additionally, the hot, humid air of summer can irritate already inflamed COPD airways, leading to bronchospasm. During a bronchospasm, breathing muscles contract, shrinking the airways and making it more difficult to breathe.
- More pollution. Raised temperatures result in increased amounts of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide in both indoor and outdoor air, which can also further exacerbate COPD symptoms.
- Stay hydrated. Increase fluid intake in the summer, no matter what. Dehydrated lungs are irritable and prone to spasm and being properly hydrated is crucial for keeping body temperature in check.
- Protect your skin. A sunburn kick starts the body’s cooling process, so save yourself the extra effort (and oxygen) by protecting your skin from the sun when you’re outside. Apply sunscreen, stick to the shade when possible, and wear a hat.
- Chill inside. Whenever possible, opt to stay indoors in an air-conditioned space. If you don’t have AC in your home, consider spending time at the mall, movies, or library to cool down on sweltering days. Get your outdoors time in the early morning or in the evening when the heat and smog levels are typically lower.
- Exercise indoors. Exercise is important for improving quality of life with COPD, but overexerting yourself during hot days will only do harm. Try to exercise in air conditioning and always stay hydrated.
- Allergy awareness. Many summer plants and allergens can worsen COPD symptoms. Be proactive and discuss with your doctor which allergy medications or inhalers will make for easy summer breathing.