Heat and Humidity Can Worsen Asthma and COPD

The steamy days of summer typically brings people outdoors to enjoy an often too-short season, but heat and humidity can cause flare-ups in people with asthma or COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).

According to the National Emphysema Foundation, nearly four million seniors in the United States have been diagnosed with COPD and it is the third-leading cause of death.   With breathing already made difficult by blocked airways as a result of asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, heat and humidity can worsens symptoms by forcing the body to work extra-hard to try and stay cool.  When air pollution or smog levels are also high, the risk for a flare up increases.

Seniors with compromised breathing should seek a cool indoor space during very hot weather and make sure the air is free of smoke or strong scents.  If home is not air conditioned, try visiting a public library, community center or shopping mall to cool off during the hottest times of day, usually between 11 am and 3 p.m.

On very hot days, seniors with asthma or COPD should take extra precautions:

  • Stay indoors with air conditioning if possible.
  • During the heat of the day,  keep windows and shades drawn to keep out heat and pollution.
  • Open window at night when air is cool and if pollution levels are low.
  • Use fans.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Exercise in the early morning or evening, avoiding the hottest times of day.
  • Wear light-weight, light-colored clothing and a hat outdoors in the heat.
  • Keep medication on hand and know your action plan in case of a flare-up.

Source:  National Lung Association

If an elderly loved-one with asthma or COPD lives alone, be sure to check on them regularly during a heat wave.  Often older people do not register thirst or heat as well as younger adults and are at a higher risk for dehydration and heat-related illness.

To learn more about living with a chronic lung disease, visit the American Lung Association’s Better Breathers Club online by following this link.