As the weather begins to warm, and we spend more time outside, people with asthma may find their symptoms unexpectedly flaring up. Though some may attribute this increase in shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing to pollen in the air, heat itself may be a culprit. Hot and humid weather is a common asthma trigger that many people forget about. Here is how to be ready for this change of season so that you can enjoy your time outdoors.

How Heat Affects Us All

Over the last few years, extreme weather and heatwaves have signaled just what a dramatic impact climate change is making. As global temperatures have continued to rise, warmer weather traps greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and contributes to worsening ground-level ozone levels. This is a problem not just for people with asthma, but all of us.

Ozone (also called smog) aggressively irritates lung tissue by reacting chemically with it, so ground-level ozone pollution can trigger respiratory and cardiovascular harm at any severity or exposure. Immediate problems include shortness of breath, coughing, asthma episodes, increased risk of lung infections and inflammation. High levels of ozone or long-term exposure can increase the seriousness of symptoms, especially for those with asthma or other chronic lung diseases and may require emergency attention. Heart attacks, stroke and premature death are uncommon.

Ozone is not the only lung irritant caused by heat and humidity. In general, extreme weather can strain the respiratory system, making breathing harder for individuals, especially those at higher risk. For people with asthma, breathing in hot air, whether dry or filled with moisture, can trigger symptoms because it causes the airways to tighten and narrow.

In contrast, stifling heat can cause the air to become stagnant, which traps pollens, dust, mold and other pollutants that may trigger an asthma flare-up. Also, allergic reactions to the wildfires or the blossoming outdoors can affect your nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, lining of the stomach or skin.

6 Steps to Prevent Flare-Ups in Extreme Heat

After a long winter indoors, we all want to enjoy the warmer weather without worry. If you experience asthma symptoms during this time of year, there are a number of things you can do to prevent a flare-up.

  1. Check before you venture out. The air quality we breathe affects everyone and can be a problem for people with asthma. Make a habit of checking the temperature, air quality and pollution forecast (airnow.gov) before heading outdoors. If air pollution levels and/or temperature are high, limit how much you’re out.
  2. Stay cool and hydrated. Drinking plenty of water can help thin any mucus accumulating in your lungs or airways as well as cool off your body. Using a dehumidifier and air conditioner can help to regulate the temperature and humidity of the air, while a HEPA filter can help reduce the particles in the air. But be sure to change the air filters in your heating, cooling and air filtration systems to maintain the best possible healthy air status in your home.
  3. Always have your medication on hand. If you have a chronic lung disease such as asthma it is important to always have your maintenance (controller) and quick-relief (rescue) medicines available. It is essential that you take the correct medicine as prescribed, at the right time and in the right way, even if you are feeling well. Another way to manage your medicines is to create an asthma action plan with your healthcare provider to ensure you are always prepared and know what to do. If you need more instructions on how to use your medicines properly, review the “How to use” your inhaled medicines properly with our updated videos and handouts.
  4. Create a pollutant-free space. If you can cool your home down but are concerned about other triggers getting into it, you may want to consider making a clean room. Though they are most used to protect against wildfire smoke, clean rooms can protect against any pollutant that may cause you to have a severe reaction. Learn how to create a clean room.
  5. Provide and ask for help. Check on your neighbors often and ask for help from family or friends to stay cool. Some people utilize cooling centers during extreme heat days. Homeless individuals or anyone lacking adequate cooling at home can find resources at both a state and county level through the National Center for Healthy Housing.
  6. Be prepared.  In recent years, excessive heat has caused power outages or power shortages in some parts of the country. If you use a nebulizer, an oxygen concentrator, or other medicine delivery device that requires electricity, this could be harmful to you.  Plan now.   Talk with your healthcare provider about medication delivery devices that do not require electricity, develop an asthma action plan and maintain a supply of medicines at hand to carry you through the times in question.

Learn more at Asthma Basics. Watch this short video on Extreme Heat in Cities.

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