By Apollo 24/7, Published on - 10 April 2021
Summer is upon us, allowing little time for the body to adapt to the sudden shift in temperatures. While the season brings out boundless energy in many, for people suffering from respiratory illnesses such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma, the hot weather can trigger breathing issues. High heat and humidity results in several cases of asthma flare-ups and other respiratory diseases. Various studies have established the connection between hot weather and breathing difficulties.
From stagnant air to increased pollution levels, it can get difficult to breathe properly when it is hot all around. The body requires more oxygen to maintain the internal temperature during extreme weather conditions (excessive heat or cold), affecting lung function and resulting in deep or rapid breathing (hyperpnea). Scientific research has shown different effects of hot weather on breathing, some of which include:
● During the summer season, the pollen count in the air increases. This can trigger respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath in people suffering from respiratory illnesses such as asthma, allergic rhinitis and COPD.
● A study published in the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology concluded that hot air induces airway irritation and cough in people suffering from allergic rhinitis (inflammatory disease of upper airways). The reason behind this was believed to be the activation of the thermal sensors present on the nerves of the larynx (voice box) and the upper airways.
● Another research published in the European Respiratory Journal stated that breathing in hot air causes inflammation in the airways and also causes the airways to contract (bronchoconstriction), resulting in shortness of breath.
● The Lancet states that during extremely high temperatures, the air becomes stagnant and traps all the pollutants (including Particulate Matter 2.5 and ozone) in the air, which results in the worsening of respiratory symptoms.
● In hot weather, people sweat more and tend to suffer from dehydration. This can dry out the nasal passage, bronchial tubes, and lungs, resulting in shortness of breath.
● It has also been found that hot air holds more water vapours than cool air, resulting in less oxygen content and higher humidity in the air. This dense air can be difficult to breathe, especially for those with chronic lung problems.
How to take care of the lungs during hot weather?
One can take care of their lungs during summers by making some simple changes in their daily routine. A few examples could be:
1. Stay indoors: Do not step out of the house unless necessary. Keep the windows and doors closed to keep the house cool.
2. Stay updated about the weather conditions: Check the weather (temperature and humidity levels), pollen counts in the air, and the air quality index (AQI) before going out. Do not go out of the house if there are high pollen and particulate matter levels in the air as they can combine with heat and induce cough and wheezing, especially for those suffering from respiratory illnesses. If you do need to go out, wear a face mask to prevent the inhalation of pollutants and pollens.
3. Plan your day accordingly: Avoid going out during the warmest time of the day, which is normally between 11 am and 3 pm. Plan the work or activities either in the early morning or evening when the air gets a little cooler.
4. Quit unhealthy lifestyle choices: Smokers must quit smoking to improve their breathing and lung function. Avoid alcohol consumption as it tends to dehydrate the body.
5. Choose the right clothing: Wear loose, light-coloured cotton clothes during summers.
6. Do not over-strain yourself: Avoid practising strenuous exercises such as running, cycling or walking uphill with a heavy backpack.
7. Make necessary dietary changes: Keep hydrating yourself by drinking plenty of water. Eat foods with high water content such as watermelon, musk melon, mango, and cucumbers.
8. Keep your body cool: Take frequent showers if you feel overheated. Cover yourself with a shrug, hat or scarf, or use an umbrella when outdoors.
9. Be prepared for a health emergency: Keep emergency quick-relief medications (for breathing problems) handy.
Hot weather and heat waves can affect everyone but people with pre-existing lung conditions are at increased risk for adverse effects and health issues. Therefore, such individuals must keep themselves properly hydrated by drinking lots of water and avoid getting exposed to hot weather. People suffering from respiratory illnesses must contact their doctor if they experience an exacerbation of their symptoms.
For any queries related to lungs and breathing, consult a pulmonologist.
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