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Weather and Your Lungs

"What's the weather going to be today?" It's a frequent question that has larger implications for those with lung disease. Whether it's summer or winter, rainy or windy, people with lung disease should pay attention to the weather report as sudden changes in the weather as well as extreme weather conditions can provoke lung symptoms.

Hot and Humid
Hot weather can be especially hard on people with respiratory disorders. In a 2013 study from the Johns Hopkins University, researchers found a relationship between rising temperatures and the number of emergency hospital admissions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and respiratory tract infections among people 65 and older. Although the reason behind this correlation is not clear, inhaling hot air is known to promote airway inflammation and exacerbate respiratory disorders like COPD. Hot weather can also be a trigger for people with asthma. Because people with asthma already have inflamed airways, weather is more likely to have an impact, as breathing in hot, humid air induces airway constriction in asthmatics. Air pollution can also be a factor impacting summer breathing in those with lung disease, as increased ozone from smog is often seen in the summer months.

Cold and Dry
Cold weather, and particularly cold air, can also play havoc with your lungs and health. Cold air is often dry air, and for many, especially those with chronic lung disease, that can spell trouble. Dry air can irritate the airways of people with lung diseases. This can lead to wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

Be Proactive and Be Prepared
While you can't control the weather, you can reduce the impact it has on your lung disease symptoms. Stay ahead of the curve by monitoring the weather forecasts and identifying your triggers before going outside. You can enjoy your favorite outdoor activities all year round by keeping the following tips in mind:

  • If it's cold outside, loosely wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth to warm the air before it enters your lungs. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Access to air conditioning can be important during the hot summer months, so add air-conditioning to your home if you can.
  • Monitor air quality forecasts to stay healthy. Air pollution can be very high both in winter and summer and those with asthma and other lung diseases are at higher risk for being impacted by air pollution.
  • Remember to take your prescribed controller medications—another important way to l reduce the potential impact of the changing weather conditions on your health.
  • If you have asthma or COPD, always keep quick-relief medications with you. Stop activity and use your quick-relief medicine as soon as you begin to have symptoms.

To learn more about how to manage symptoms of COPD or asthma, find a Better Breathers Club near you or learn more about how to manage COPD and asthma at Lung.org.

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Related Topics: Health & Wellness, Science,

  • Susan Rappaport
    National Vice President, Research & Scientific Affairs
    Susan Rappaport is the American Lung Association's National Vice President, Research & Scientific Affairs.

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