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Handle the Heat & Humidity Better this Summer with these COPD Safety Tips

July 15, 2020

Some people look forward to summer year-round and thrive on the sunshine and warmth. Others, unfortunately, step outside and feel like they can hardly breathe the moment the heat and humidity hits them.

This is often the case for people who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), one of the most common respiratory diseases affecting nearly 16 million adults in the Unites States. Caused by long-term lung damage – particularly through smoking – COPD can present with a chronic cough, increased mucus production, wheezing, and shortness of breath (more so when physically active).

Various environmental factors, such as bacteria, mold spores, pollen, and air pollutants, can exacerbate symptoms, causing “flare-ups,” says Dr. Scott Seifert, Pulmonologist at Jefferson Health New Jersey. Unfortunately, this can seriously impact one’s daily functionality if they’re not careful.

Dr. Seifert explains that it’s typically not the heat and humidity alone that causes flare-ups, but rather what is associated with them, such as increased air pollution, higher pollen counts, and overall poor air quality -- especially in people who have overlapping asthma. 

For example, high humidity stimulates mold growth. Not only can this have an impact outdoors, but also within your home. This is why managing indoor humidity levels is so important – it’s not just for your comfort, but for your lung function.

Heat can take a significant toll when you’re not well hydrated, adds Dr. Seifert. “The more dehydrated you are, the thicker your mucus becomes, which can clog up the airways. Dehydration can also make you fatigued and overheated, which can trigger shortness of breath.”

The easiest way to prevent heat-related respiratory complications is avoidance; however, staying “cooped up” inside all the time can be a detriment to your health in other ways. In order to manage your COPD symptoms and still be able to enjoy the outdoors, Dr. Seifert offers the following tips:

  • Stay hydrated!
  • Always check the weather, humidity levels, and air quality when making plans.
  • Try to stay indoors as much as possible when the heat and humidity are considerably high.
  • When you do go outdoors, take frequent breaks and don’t overexert yourself.
  • Remember to get some shade and wear the proper clothing to avoid overheating.
  • Have your rescue inhaler on hand – and make sure it’s not expired!
  • Listen to your body. If your symptoms start to worsen, go inside as soon as possible to use your rescue inhaler and get some rest.

Ultimately, when you live with COPD, it’s important to prepare for any trip outside. Dr. Seifert commonly reminds his patients to take these extra steps, as if they are going to the beach for the day, even if they aren’t.

These tips can also come in handy for some people in the wintertime, when the frigid, dry air and common respiratory viruses are at large.

If you experience a severe flare-up in which worsened symptoms persist, even after cooling off indoors, you should reach out to your doctor for help. If you can’t manage to catch your breath, you should go to your nearest emergency room as soon as possible. However, this is less likely to happen if you follow the proper precautions.

So, don’t let your COPD scare you from going outside this summer! As long as you’re careful and listen to your body, the heat and humidity shouldn’t be a bummer.

For more information on Primary & Specialty Care Services at Jefferson Health New Jersey, click HERE