Summertime can be the best time of the year for some of the worst times of year for others. Anyone who suffers from a breathing issue can tell you that those hot, humid summer days can be daunting. As we are aware, breathing is a mechanism of inhaling the air around us, utilizing the oxygen in that air to transfer into our circulatory system, and exhaling the by-products that are mostly carbon dioxide.
Breathing not only involves the lungs, but the nose, sinuses, and the mouth as well. If any of these routes are blocked or impaired in any way, it can make it harder to breathe, and harder to get oxygen into the bloodstream to feed our muscles.
So, what are some of the challenges that people with breathing issues face in summer weather?
A lot of people suffer from allergies. They can be “seasonal” as we see with the blooming of trees and grasses or chronic due to constant offense to the sinuses causing inflammation and swelling (i.e., pet dander, dust, mold, etc.). When pollen counts or ozone are high, it is best to stay indoors and run an air conditioner or air purifier to filter the air. Shower immediately after being outdoors, and don’t hang clothes outside to dry. Avoid mowing or weeding to keep exposure down. Wearing a mask outdoors on high pollen count days can help a lot. Seasonal allergies may be managed with some OTC preparations or with prescription medications. Always consult a physician or pharmacist before using any OTC drugs as it may interfere with what drugs you are currently taking.
Humid air is dense and contains a lot of moisture. For people with breathing problems such as asthma, COPD, or chronic bronchitis, this air can make it extremely difficult to breathe. For those that suffer from sinus issues, humid air can increase congestion and cause headaches or facial swelling.
When the weather is very humid, it is best for those with breathing problems to stay indoors, preferably in air conditioning. It is recommended they minimize activities during these times, especially outdoors. For people with lung diseases, minimal exertion in this weather can cause exhaustion, dehydration, and lower oxygen levels.
Summer can be very hot! It does not take much to dehydrate yourself. When we sweat to keep our bodies cool, we can lose a lot of moisture when it is hot outside. Dehydration is a dangerous condition for anyone, but even mild dehydration can be detrimental to anyone with lung issues. Our bodies produce mucus to keep some of our organs functioning properly. Dehydration can dry out our mucus membranes or any mucus that is in the lungs and make it harder to expel it.
When mucus membranes are too dry, they cannot rid our bodies of foreign substances, and infections can set in. The best remedy is to hydrate as much as possible with plain old water. Coffee, alcohol, and soda are not good for hydration, and in fact, they can make you more dehydrated. If you cannot drink water, drink an electrolyte preparation like Gatorade or Pedialyte.
Lately, in the U.S., we have been experiencing more forest fires than in decades past. With changing weather patterns and persistent droughts, all forests are at risk. Smoke from a fire in California can migrate across the country with the winds or with the jet stream. Smoke causes a lot more particulate matter to be present in the air. This particulate matter can be visible as “haze” in the sky. For people with lung or breathing issues, this is just another insult to the system.
It may cause coughing, congestion, itchy eyes, and heaviness in the chest making it difficult to breathe. On hazy days where smoke may be present in the air, try to stay indoors with the windows closed and use air conditioning or an air purifier to filter the ambient air. If you take breathing treatments, make sure you continue to take them as directed.
Some smart purchases for summer for people with breathing issues:
These are just a few tips to enjoy good summer breathing! For any questions, always consult a medical practitioner.
Author Profile: Laura Castricone, Respiratory Therapist
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