While everyone has a favorite and a not-so-favorite season, some people are also faced with a risky season. What does this mean, and who is affected? Air quality and certain weather patterns are triggers for people with respiratory illnesses, sensitivities, and allergies—including the 16 million Americans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This group of respiratory diseases can cause airflow blockage and breathing-related problems like emphysema and chronic bronchitis. For individuals with COPD, the riskiest time of year is defined by air quality—making seasonal weather patterns common respiratory triggers that can worsen COPD symptoms and/or cause flare-ups. We’re exploring the relationship between weather and COPD exacerbations in this article, helping you understand weather-related triggers and find ways to cope with your respiratory disease no matter the season.
Cold, hot, breezy, humid, rainy: It’s easy to believe that weather simply signals a change in temperature or season. For most, protection from these seasonal changes includes throwing on a coat, packing an umbrella, or lathering up with sunscreen. For those with COPD, however, weather predictions can mean something entirely different. Research has found that an air temperature of 70 degrees F and a humidity level of 40% is the ideal environmental condition for COPD patients; the combo helps relax airways, minimizing symptoms. On the other hand, extreme cold and heat, as well as sudden changes to weather and air quality, can spell trouble for anyone with COPD:
While cooler, autumnal weather can relieve some COPD symptoms, air quality during this season is something that COPD patients should closely monitor. Asthma-like symptoms in response to seasonal allergens like ragweed and pollen can cause a respiratory flare-up. Fall is also flu season, making it extremely important for COPD patients to monitor their health and take precautions in public.
Winter is the riskiest time of year for people with COPD. Extreme cold (below 32 degrees F) and strong winds can cause fatigue and shortness of breath in anyone, but especially in those with COPD. Additionally, cold weather can cause blood vessels to narrow. This natural reaction to sudden temperature drops restricts blood flow to keep the core body warm, ultimately limiting oxygen throughout the rest of the body. In COPD patients, lack of oxygen—in any form—can lead to messy complications.
Outdoor allergens can be irritating for people with COPD, and spring is the prime-time for air pollution. Between dust, pollen, and smog, outdoor pollutants in May through September can easily trigger COPD exacerbations.
Heat, especially temperatures above 90 degrees F, and humidity can cause COPD flare-ups. High temperatures can feel suffocating and promote airway inflammation. The ability to adapt to this overbearing heat is difficult for the average adult and near impossible for anyone suffering from a respiratory disease.
Managing Weather Challenges & COPD
Don’t let the weather slow you down! It’s important to keep up with local forecasts, so you can prepare for outdoor conditions that might aggravate your COPD symptoms. Here are some ways that you can manage your symptoms when planning for weather challenges:
- Planning for cold, dry weather. Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or face covering when traveling outdoors in this weather condition. During colder months, turning on a humidifier indoors will help you maintain air humidity levels at a perfect 40%.
- Planning for hot, humid weather. On extremely hot and humid days, the best way to manage your COPD symptoms is to stay indoors with the air conditioner on.
- Move to a location with moderate temperatures. Individuals with COPD should consider moving to a location where the weather is more moderate.
- Always check air quality. When pollen counts are high or air pollution is heavy, people with COPD should consider remaining indoors or wearing a face covering in public to block allergens.
Breathe Easier With DispatchHealth
There are many ways that you can manage your COPD symptoms when the weather becomes risky, but you can’t account for everything. In those situations where your flare-ups become overwhelming and dangerous, DispatchHealth can help. We’re an on-demand, healthcare response team that provides acute care, treatment, and testing to people of all ages in the comfort of their homes. This in-home service has helped many people living with COPD benefit from prompt medical care for their exacerbated symptoms. And, requesting care is easy; simply contact us via phone, mobile app, or website.
During COVID-19, DispatchHealth’s service has been a valuable resource for people with COPD who are at higher risk of developing coronavirus-related complications. In addition to testing for COVID-19, our teams can provide treatment and support to infected patients in the comfort of their homes—wearing PPE gear, sanitizing equipment, and disinfecting vehicles between visits. To learn more about how we’re responding to COVID-19 and how we treat acute COPD symptoms at home, contact us today.
DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.
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