Learn how heat can impact your respiratory health and what you can do at home to find the perfect temperature to protect your lungs.
Most people know that cold weather can make asthma worse because cold causes the airways to spasm and constrict. But did you know that heat can also take a toll on your respiratory health?
Depending on the kind of heat and other compounding factors, heat can be just as hard on your lungs as the cold. And for individuals with certain underlying conditions, it may even be worse.
Health And Heat Intolerance
Many people experience some degree of heat intolerance, which can cause symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. But for those with respiratory conditions, heat intolerance can be much more severe.
Unfortunately, this is something of a reciprocal problem. Good respiratory health helps people to deal with heat. So exercising is beneficial, but those with poor lung health may be unable to do so, thereby worsening their condition.
Because of this relationship, people with asthma, COPD, and other lung conditions tend to deal more poorly than their healthy peers with high temperatures. They feel hotter, even in more moderate temperatures, and experience heat intolerance symptoms more quickly.
To manage this, most people with lung conditions should keep their homes within a narrow temperature range, though research has found that keeping the home slightly warmer correlates with better respiratory health, especially in the winter. It’s a Goldilocks prescription – not too hot, not too cold.
Heat (And Cool) Your Home Right
In order to find that perfect temperature that best protects lung health, you need to heat your home the right way.
Skip the wood burning fireplace, since particulates and carbon monoxide can irritate your lungs.
Gas fireplaces are generally safer but opt for a vented one rather than an unvented or “room-vented” one to minimize the burden on your lungs.
And don’t forget to install a fireplace blower to distribute the heat throughout your home so that you don’t have to sit too close. If you sit too close to your fireplace, you’re more likely to be exposed to fumes or overheat, while well-disseminated heat will keep your whole home comfortable.
As for cooling your home when it’s very hot, be sure that your HVAC system is properly cleaned and includes a HEPA filter.
Air pollutants can cause serious lung damage, and while we generally think of pollution as coming from construction or traffic, dust, mold, and bacteria can grow in your HVAC system, which will circulate them and cause lung irritation.
Dangerous Combinations For Respiratory Health
As temperatures increase during the summer months, certain conditions can come together to create a perfect storm in terms of your respiratory health.
In particular, heat and humidity can combine and trigger asthma attacks and COPD flare-ups, and patients should always stay hydrated and keep rescue medications nearby when the humidity rises.
Heat and humidity also correlate with higher levels of smog in areas with air pollution, and on days when the air quality levels are poor, it’s best just to stay inside.
Those with poor respiratory health can protect their lungs by wearing air filtering masks if they must go outside on poor air quality days. But the fact is that it isn’t much you can do about the heat.
And the problem is only going to get worse. As climate change continues to become more serious in the next few years, it will likely become harder for everyone to breathe, not just those with asthma and other breathing issues.
Learning to take precautions now when it comes to respiratory health will serve us all for years to come.