25 Tips to Help You Breathe Easier in the Summer
Part of living with COPD is having to be extra careful about protecting your body, and especially your lungs, from harm. That means doing everything you can to avoid illnesses, exacerbations, and any environmental conditions that could weaken your lungs or make your symptoms worse.
Unfortunately, with every new season COPD patients have to adjust to new hazards and challenges that come with the change in weather. And with the summer on its way, it's important to know what to expect and how you can prepare yourself for the shift.
The summer weather, in particular, is especially hard for many people with COPD, bringing with it a variety of atmospheric conditions that can be dangerous for your lungs. The extra humidity, smog, and the plethora of new allergens that come in the summer can worsen your symptoms and make it much more difficult to breathe.
The summer weather can also sap your energy and interfere with your ability to exercise and do other activities during the day. The poor air quality and high temperatures can wreak havoc on your lungs, forcing you to be extra cautious about spending time or exercising outdoors.
It's important to keep your lungs working as efficiently as possible when the air is hot and damp, which means protecting yourself from harsh temperatures and pollution in the air. You have to know when to stay indoors, how to keep your home comfortable, and how to keep your symptoms under control.
In this article, we're going to help you get ready for the summer by alerting you to all the unique summer hazards you should be prepared for. We'll show you how to reduce your risk of flare-ups, better manage your symptoms, and even prepare for summer storms.
With some knowledge and preparation, you can make it through the summer without exposing your lungs to toxic irritants or making your COPD worse. By taking some basic, practical precautions, you can keep your symptoms under control, rock the season, and enjoy this summer to the fullest.
Prepare for Poor Air Quality
Heat, air pollution, and humidity all spike during the summer months, and all of these conditions can make it more difficult to breathe. For patients with lung diseases, these hazards can make respiratory symptoms significantly worse, and often make it both difficult and dangerous to spend time outdoors.
For example, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, high levels of particle pollution, which includes smoke and smog, increases the number of hospitalizations among people with heart and respiratory conditions. It also causes a variety of serious symptoms in people with COPD, including coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.
However, living with COPD doesn't mean you have to forego the outdoors and all the fun activities you can do in the summer. You can still enjoy swimming, hiking, and other outdoor activities as long as you know your limits and plan them right.
In this section, we're going to help you learn how to spend time outside while minimizing your symptoms when you're outdoors. We'll show you how to monitor your local weather and air quality so you can make safe and healthy decisions about when to go out and when it's best to stay indoors.
Enjoy the Outdoors During Cooler Times of Day
Spending too much time out under the hot, summer sun can worsen COPD symptoms like breathlessness, coughing, and fatigue. This happens because, as your body overheats, your lungs have to work extra hard to help your body cool down.
The warm environment alone can make breathing a challenge, especially when you suffer from a respiratory condition like COPD. Hot air can irritate your lungs and cause them to spasm, constricting your airways and blocking oxygen from flowing through. This can cause bouts of coughing and wheezing and make it much more difficult to breathe.
When you have COPD, it's important to avoid the heat so you can keep your body and your lungs running at maximum possible efficiency. Otherwise, symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath may get the better of you and lead to flare-ups or even serious exacerbations.
In the summer, this means staying indoors and limiting your physical activity when the weather outside is too hot. However, that doesn't mean you have to trap yourself indoors all day during the summer.
The trick is to avoid going out during the hottest time of day and during especially bad heat spells. Instead, plan outdoor activities and exercise during the early mornings and early evenings, instead of in the middle of the day.
To plan ahead, you can check your local weather archives and find patterns in how the temperature changes throughout the day. Using records of past year's weather and paying attention to hourly temperature forecasts, you can pin-point the best and coolest times of day to go outside at different points during the season.
Find a Good Source for Weather and Air Quality Forecasts
Besides paying attention to the temperature, you should also watch out for days with high humidity or air pollution. Summer is usually the most humid time of the year, and it's also the prime season for pollen, mold, and smog.
Your local air quality can vary significantly from day to day, depending on the temperature, wind patterns, and other environmental factors. Even allergens vary in severity throughout the season and can spike unexpectedly depending on the weather.
Luckily, you can always monitor your local air quality conditions by watching your local weather channel or by checking the forecast daily online. There are a variety of websites that provide detailed reports, including levels of pollution, humidity, and allergens, to help people like you avoid hazardous conditions.
To prepare for this summer, you can even take a look at past weather and air quality archives to get a better idea of what the summer will be like where you live. You will likely notice patterns in how humidity, allergens, and pollution levels vary throughout the season that you can use to plan your summer activities.
Here are some online resources you can use to check the daily air quality and humidity in your area:
- Visit airnow.gov to check your local air quality index. This website is run by the EPA and uses an intuitive scale (from “good” to “hazardous”) to help you quickly understand the risk.
- Visit pollen.com for local allergy and pollen forecasts. There, you can get a general allergen rating (from low to high allergen risk) and even a list of the top allergens (e.g. oak, ragweed, etc.) in your area.
- You can check the weather and temperature history for your zip code by using this tool from Weather Underground. It can give you detailed information about temperatures and weather from past years, and even includes graphs showing you hour-by-hour temperatures from past dates. You can use this information to figure out the coolest times of day for different parts of the summer and get a better idea of what kind of weather to expect.
Set Up Weather and Air Quality Alerts
There are a variety of Android and iPhone apps you can use to track weather and air quality on your phone. These apps give you a convenient way to monitor outdoor conditions on the go or from your home.
Having the weather and air quality on a mobile app can help you remember to check and plan around poor conditions. Some apps will even push alarms to your phone to warn you of air and weather hazards in real time.
There are dozens of apps on both the Google and iTunes app store dedicated to weather, pollen, and air quality forecasts. Here are a few examples of apps that can be particularly useful for people with COPD.
Plume Air Report
Plume Air Report is an app available for both Android and iPhone mobile devices that gives you real-time data on air pollution for any city in the world. It also tells gives you basic information on the local temperature, wind, and humidity levels.
Plume is simple, straightforward, and easy to use and navigate. It's a great all-in-one app for weather and air quality to help you determine whether it's safe to spend time or exercise outdoors.
WebMD Allergy App
The WebMD Allergy App tells you everything you need to know about pollen and other allergens in your area. It is available for both iPhone and Android and provides up-to-date data on weather and allergen levels.
This app is great for people with seasonal allergies and even people with allergies to dust and mold. It even separates allergens by category, showing you the concentrations of different types, including allergens associated with grass, trees, weeds, dust, dander, and mold.
The WebMD Allergy App also lets you record your allergy symptoms every day to help you monitor your health. This is a great way to track the severity of your symptoms, learn what you're most sensitive to, and get a better idea of how your allergies affect your COPD.
BreezoMeter Air Quality Index
The BreezoMeter app gives you detailed air quality reports you can use to plan outdoor activities and minimize your exposure to airborne pollutants. It includes current air quality data, future air quality forecasts, and detailed air quality maps that can show you the air conditions down to the street level.
The BreezoMeter map even provides personalized, practical health tips based on your local air quality to help you avoid hazards and plan your day. It can also send you alerts when the air quality changes and allows you to monitor the air in multiple locations at once.
Avoid Hazardous Temperatures, Weather, and Pollution
Depending on where you live, the temperature and air quality might vary vastly from day to day or even between morning and evening. But once you've found some good sources for air quality, allergens, and weather alerts, you can begin to work your days and summer plans around the hazards.
Air pollution and extreme heat or humidity can have a significant effect on your COPD, worsening your symptoms and even leading to serious exacerbations. In fact, even if you don't notice its effects in the short term, polluted air alone can make you more prone to getting respiratory infections, raise your risk of heart attack, and increase your chances of needing to be hospitalized.
The dangers of heat, humidity, and poor air quality go up depending on three main factors: the severity of the weather or pollution, the length of time you spend outside, and how much physical exertion you do. For example, taking a short walk or sitting outside on a hot or humid day isn't nearly as dangerous as doing vigorous exercise or spending an extended amount of time in the heat.
Use local forecasts to help you plan outdoor exercise, sports, and activities for times when the temperatures are expected to be mild, humidity is low, and the air quality is good. That might mean limiting outdoor activities in the afternoons and going out during cooler times of the day.
You can use the trends from past years to help you plan things further out, such as sporting leagues, exercise schedules, and vacations. For shorter-term plans, you can use week-long weather and air quality forecasts to figure out what days and times you should avoid spending time outdoors.
Here are some tips for planning your activities around hazardous weather and air conditions:
- Check your air quality forecast every week and note any days that are supposed to be particularly bad. As you plan activities and outings, avoid planning anything on hazardous days that involves physical activity outdoors or requires you to spend too much time outside.
- Protect yourself from the heat by figuring out what parts of the day are the coolest and planning any outdoor exercise, work, or other activities during these times.
- Take care when doing lengthy outdoor activities or heavy exercise, in particular. Make an effort to plan them on days with the most favorable conditions.
- Save lengthy walks, gardening, lawn work, outdoor sporting events, and other activities that keep you outdoors for extended periods of time for cooler days. They are too risky to do in hot, humid, or polluted air.
- Always check the allergen and pollution levels in your area before opening up windows and doors in your house. Airing out your home is a great way to let in cool, fresh air, but if the air quality is poor, you'll just end up filling your home with pollen and airborne irritants.
- During heat spells or very hot days, make sure you have an air-conditioned, indoor place to spend time in. If you don't have air conditioning or it stops working during the heat, leave the house and go somewhere public that has A/C (such as the library, mall, movie theater, a restaurant, or a coffee shop).
- If you like to exercise outdoors, shorten the length of time you spend outside in the heat and take more frequent breaks. You may need to break up your exercise into smaller chunks and spread them out during different times of the day.
- On days with high pollution or allergens, exercise indoors instead. For example, you could go the gym, do aerobics in your living room, or find a large, indoor place to take a walk.
Talk to Your Doctor About Preparing for Summer Hazards
As you prepare for the summer weather and the various respiratory hazards it brings, you should talk to your doctor about any concerns you have. For instance, if you are worried about allergies, flare-ups, or how much exercise you should do in the heat, your doctor is the best source of advice.
To help you get physical activity, your doctor can help you work out a feasible exercise schedule for the summer that takes the weather and heat into account. Your doctor can also help you find activities that are safe and healthy for you to do based on your personal medical history and physical condition.
You can also ask your doctor to help you prepare for allergies and flare-ups so you can minimize your symptoms when the summer respiratory irritants come. He may also be able to give you a prescription allergy medication or an emergency inhaler if you are prone to serious flare-ups.
By working with your doctor, you can make sure you have everything you need to keep your symptoms under control when it gets hot, humid, or the smog rolls in. If your doctor prescribes you s rescue inhaler, keep it and any other quick-relief medications with you at all times in case you encounter poor air conditions or experience a surprise flare-up.
Prepare for High Temperatures and Humidity
Exposure to extreme temperatures can be hard on your body, especially when you suffer from a chronic disease. That's why people with COPD should avoid going outside when the weather is especially hot and humid.
Regulating your body temperature is taxing on your body and puts extra strain on your respiratory system in particular. To keep your lungs working as efficiently as possible, you have to be extra careful to protect yourself out in the heat.
There are many ways to do this while still enjoying the warm summer sun and and your favorite outdoor activities. The following tips will help you keep breathlessness and fatigue at bay without having to shutter yourself in the whole summer.
Know the Signs of Heat Stroke
The symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be subtle and easy to miss, especially if you have COPD. Symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath can be mistaken for normal COPD symptoms instead of a dangerous sign of heat exhaustion.
Heat stroke can strike suddenly, which is why it's so important to know the signs and symptoms and pay close attention to your body whenever you're out in the heat. Be on the look out for symptoms in yourself and others and take care not to exert yourself too much.
Heat exhaustion is not as severe as heat stroke, and the symptoms can be mild or severe. However, experiencing heat exhaustion when you have COPD puts you at a higher risk for serious complications.
Luckily, avoiding heat exhaustion is a simple matter of monitoring your body and taking care of yourself in the heat. Drinking plenty of water, replenishing your electrolytes regularly (with salty food or sports drinks), and taking frequent breaks in the shade can all significantly reduce your chances of heat stroke.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke:
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- Nausea or vomiting
- Pale or flushed face
- Weak, rapid pulse
- Muscle cramps or weakness
- Heavy sweating with cold, clammy skin
Wear Appropriate Clothing
How you dress can significantly affect your temperature and how you feel outside in the heat. Clothes that are tight or heavy will make you overheat more quickly, while light, loose clothes will help you stay cool.
When you go outside on hot days, make sure to wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothes that give you space to move and room to breathe. Clothes that cinch or are too tight will be very hot under the sun and make it more difficult for you to move freely and breathe comfortably.
To prepare for the summer, fill your wardrobe with light, airy fabrics and pale colors that reflect light rather than absorb it. It may also be a good time to go through your old clothes and get rid of items that don't fit or restrict your breathing.
A hat is another great clothing accessory to have when you're out in the summer heat. A wide-brimmed hat gives you the most protection from the sun, but a visor or baseball cap can help you stay cool as well.
When you're outside in the heat, it's easy to get dehydrated without even realizing it. If you don't make a special effort to drink plenty of water, you could end up with worsened shortness of breath, coughing, and fatigue.
Dehydration strains both your body and your lungs, and also dries out the mucus in your airways. This worsens airway obstruction and makes it even more difficult to breathe, which makes physical exertion dangerous in the heat.
It's important to take dehydration seriously when you suffer from COPD, because it can severely exacerbate existing breathing troubles. Make it a goal to drink extra water during the summer and bring a water bottle with you anytime you leave the house.
When you're outside in not-ideal weather, such as excessive humidity or heat, it pays to be extra cautious. You may need to limit your physical exertion or take more frequent breaks to keep your COPD symptoms under control.
As soon as you feel too fatigued or feel like you are having trouble catching your breath, stop whatever activity you are doing and retreat to a sheltered place where you can rest. Use any rescue medication you have if needed and don't exert yourself again until your respiratory ailments have passed.
If you feel overheated, find a shaded or air conditioned spot immediately, and drink some cold water to cool down. Don't go outside again until you are well-hydrated, rested, and your body temperature feels normal again.
It's important to stay in tune with your body and be able to recognize the signs of a flare-up. If you catch your symptoms worsening early and take appropriate action, you are much less likely to experience serious symptoms or have to be hospitalized for an exacerbation.
Keep Your House Cooled
Depending on where you live and how your house is designed, it can be a challenge to cool your house during the worst of the summer heat. Sometimes, the A/C just can't keep up with the sweltering heat and the hot sun beating down on your house.
If you have COPD, it's very important for your lungs to keep your house at a cool, comfortable temperature when you're at home. Fortunately, there are a variety of simple techniques you can use to keep the heat out and take give your A/C unit a break.
First of all, when the sun is beating down, make sure you keep your window blinds and shutters closed. This will prevent the sunlight from shining through and warming up the air inside your home.
You can also cool down and air out your house at night by opening up the windows after the sun goes down. However, you have to be strategic about which windows you open and close to make this method effective.
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