The Heat and COPD: What You Need to Know

Posted by Dave Tomar on June 16, 2014

The Heat and COPD: What You Need to Know

The summer is now upon us and after a long, cold winter, most of us couldn’t be happier about it. But before you slather yourself in sunblock and head out to the beach, you should be mindful of the health risks that come with these warmer months. When the mercury starts rising in your thermometer, so too do the health dangers for those most vulnerable to the heat. 

In fact, there are some health conditions for which elevated heat can cause elevated risks. A recent article in Health Day warns that this elevated risk is of particular concern for adults living with COPD. Those suffering from the respiratory illness are especially vulnerable to the impact of the hottest days of the calendar year. With the effects of climate change seemingly more pertinent with every passing year, the dangers related to sustained heat waves are becoming greater public health issues all the time. 

What is COPD?

Approximately 15 million Americans are living with a diagnosis of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), a condition which typically refers to a group of diseases resulting in airflow blockage and difficulty breathing. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), coughing, wheezing and chest tightness are common symptoms.  Smoking is believed to be a leading cause for the condition.

For those struggling with COPD, the daily challenge of breathing is difficult enough, but this challenge is intensified when the heat rises. Individuals living with COPD are likely to experience even greater respiratory difficulty when it gets hot out. About COPD notes that breathing in hot air can cause an occurrence called a bronchospasm, where the airways contract. This is why, respiratory conditions aside, you may find breathing in the hot weather to be less comfortable. But for those living with COPD, this discomfort can actually manifest as a serious health concern.

Identifying the Risk

The study in question, conducted by researchers from the Johns Hopkins University, included 84 participants, all former smokers with COPD diagnoses varying in severity. Across 600 days of monitoring during the warmer months, participants demonstrated increased symptomology both indoors and outdoors. Hotter indoor temperatures, in particular, were shown to produce more salient symptoms, to impinge proper lung function, and to require a greater intake of medication. Additionally, these warmer indoor temperatures denoted a decreased effectiveness of prescription medication. 

Reducing the Risk

The good news about these findings is that they revolve significantly around indoor (rather than outdoor) temperatures. While we can’t make the sun any less oppressive on a really hot day, we can regulate the temperature in our own homes. If you have COPD but your house lacks proper air-conditioning, you should strongly consider installing an air-conditioning window unit. The cost is low but the benefits are huge. 

If this isn’t possible, consider taking a cold shower to cool down your body temperature on hot days or plan your day around activities in air-conditioned places like the mall or library. 

Other than that, take sensible steps to adjust to the heat, including dressing properly and drinking plenty of fluid. With some smart and careful planning, you can beat the summer heat!


TAGS: COPD and hot weather