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How to Protect Your Lungs from the Summer Heat

The heat of summer can impact your respiratory health in numerous ways. 

Summer heat increases the concentration of pollutants in the air. Inhaling these pollutants can cause you to experience coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. 

High temperatures also increase your respiratory rate and depth, which can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, potentially affecting your lung efficiency and overall well-being. 

Next, heat can cause your blood vessels to widen and divert blood flow from your internal organs to your skin for cooling. This diversion can reduce oxygen delivery to your lungs, affecting respiratory function.

Prolonged exposure to the heat can also put you at risk for heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion or heatstroke, which can impair your cognitive function and coordination, making you more susceptible to accidents or injuries.

Lastly, hot summer air can also exacerbate existing respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, sinus issues, and pulmonary fibrosis.


Whether you already deal with respiratory problems or are just trying to deal with the heat, consider these tips for maintaining your respiratory health and overall well-being during the summer months:

1. Know your triggers and understand your risk. 

Hot weather can be a trigger if you have asthma, as breathing in hot, humid air can constrict your already-inflamed airways. Air pollution can also impact summer breathing — whether you have lung disease or not.

According to the American Lung Association, more than four in 10 Americans live in areas with dangerous levels of ozone or particulate pollution. And you don’t have to be near a highway, smokestack, or factory to be affected, as pollution can travel long distances.

If you work or exercise outside, you’re at a higher risk for air pollution. Children, the elderly, pregnant people, and those with lung disease are particularly vulnerable. 

Know your triggers, monitor your symptoms, and be aware of how you feel. If you have increased shortness of breath, call your doctor.

Don’t delay getting to urgent care or an emergency department if your symptoms worsen and medication isn’t working.

2. Stay cool.

When you get overheated, your body requires more oxygen to help bring your temperature down. This can cause you to experience breathlessness. Lung disease and the medications used to treat it can also interfere with your body’s natural ability to cool down, as well as increase your sensitivity to heat.

Stay indoors during the hottest parts of the day, and use air conditioning to stay cool. Air conditioning helps take humidity out of the air, making it easier to breathe. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, go to a library, mall, or a friend’s house that does.

When you do go outside, keep to shaded spaces and attend activities and appointments in the morning when it’s cooler.

3. Take it easy.

Whether you enjoy gardening or exercising, don’t overexert yourself. Exercising heavily in the sun can leave you short of breath.

Limit your activities to the coolest hours of the day and monitor how hot you feel and how well you’re breathing. Pace yourself. Exercise indoors if you can, and give yourself permission to avoid working yourself too hard on hot days.

4. Dress light.

Wear seasonally appropriate clothes made of cool summer fabrics like cotton or linen to prevent the type of overheating that can spark a COPD or asthma flare up. 

If you need to wear a face covering, opt for one made from a breathable fabric like cotton.

5. Stay hydrated.

Your body needs water to keep cool. When you sweat, you lose valuable coolant. 

Stay hydrated throughout the day. Drink plenty of water and avoid dehydrating beverages like caffeine and alcohol. If you monitor your fluid intake for other health-related conditions, consult your physician for the best hydration options.

Do you need guidance for managing an existing respiratory condition during the summer heat? The Lung Docs can help. Give us a call at (423) 710-3864 or make an appointment online.

Sources: Temple Health, UC Davis Health, American Lung Association


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