Beating the Heat with Asthma

(July 9, 2015)

Climate change, especially extremes in heat, is a health threat, especially for people with chronic lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"Millions of Americans have asthma and COPD, so they and their caregivers need to know how to prepare and take precautions when heat extremes occur," explained Albert A. Rizzo, MD, Senior Medical Advisor to the American Lung Association. "Increased heat and its interaction with air pollution can worsen the compromised lung function that these individuals already have."

Extremes in outdoor heat and heat waves have been known to cause spikes in deaths related to lung disease. They can also impact flare-ups in individuals with asthma or COPD, resulting in hospitalizations and worsened quality of life. Because climate change will increase the likelihood of extremes in heat and occurrence of heat waves, individuals with lung disease and their caregivers need to prepare and be cautious when heat extremes occur.

Get a Heads Up Before You Head Out

The Air Quality Index is an index for reporting daily air quality. It tells you how clean or polluted your air is, and what associated health effects might be a concern for you. Air quality is listed in six groups; from healthy to hazardous. Go to Airnow.gov or check your local weather reports to find out air quality predictions for your community. To learn more about the air you breathe, visit StateOfTheAir.org.

Be Prepared

Dealing with rising temperatures is a little easier it you take a few minutes to prepare. Before you go out, pack your bag with everything you need to manage your breathing symptoms:

  • For people with asthma and COPD, your quick relief inhaler should be with you at all times because you never know when you might need it. If you use a spacer or valved holding chamber, bring it along.
  • If you have asthma, review your Asthma Management Plan and preferably keep a copy with you. Also, if you monitor your symptoms with a peak flow meter, check your peak flow rates on hot days.
  • Take plenty of water to drink so you can stay hydrated.

Get Ready to Go

Talk to your doctor about using your quick-relief inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before going outside in the heat or during exercising to help prevent your airways from tightening and making breathing difficult.

Take it Easy

On really hot days even regular activities can feel strenuous and cause shortness of breath and coughing in patients with asthma and COPD.

  • If possible, schedule outdoor activities in the early morning or late evening when effects of ozone and poor air quality may be less intense. Stay inside where it's cool when you can.
  • When at home or in the car, keep windows closed and the air conditioner on.
  • Air-conditioned places like museums, libraries and movie theaters are cool hangouts for family and friends during the heat of the day.

Splash Around

Splashing around the water park and swimming will not only keep you cool but can be great exercise. However, chlorine and other chemicals found in indoor and outdoor pools and water slides can be a trigger for airway spasms. Before jumping in the deep end, make sure the pool area is well ventilated and doesn't have a strong chlorine or chemical odor. If you can smell the chemicals, you should probably forego the pool.

Go Fragrance Free

  • Sunscreens, tanning lotion, bug spray and citronella candles all have fragrances that can worsen breathing.
  • Choose products that are unscented and lotions instead of aerosol sprays.
  • Avoid the need for bug spray by emptying containers with standing water, which are known mosquito breeding grounds, and change the water in birdbaths every few days.

References:

Heat-Related Emergency Hospitalizations for Respiratory diseases in the Medicare Population G. Brooke Anderson, et al. Am J Respir Crit Care Med: Vol 187, iss 10 pp. 1098-1103, May 15 2013

Lungs in a Warming World, Climate Change and Respiratory Health, Aaron Bernstein MD, Mary Rice MD, CHEST 2013; 143 (5): 1455-1459