How the Weather Impacts COPD Symptoms
When seasons change or a front moves in, COPD patients are often the first to notice. Living with compromised airways makes you more sensitive to particles in the air, as well moisture content, air pressure, and temperature.
A big fluctuation can bring on a COPD exacerbation, but even relatively mild changes can lead to shortness of breath, increase in mucus, and a general feeling of discomfort from head to toe.
You may not be able to control the weather, but you can limit its unpleasant effects with a few careful adjustments. The first step is understanding your particular weather sensitivities, and how they link to common COPD triggers.
The Strain of Hot and Cold
When temperatures swing to either side of the thermometer, your respiratory system must work harder to pull in extra oxygen to keep your body at a healthy temperature. COPD causes airways and lungs to react more drastically to changes in air pressure and composition:
- Extremes lead to exacerbations. Some patients are more sensitive to temperature extremes than others, but experts insist that anything below freezing or above 90 degrees are bad for anyone living with COPD. Frigid temperatures tend to fatigue those with a chronic lung condition, wind can worsen COPD symptoms, and heat can cause your airways to inflame and constrict (which leads to bronchospasm).
- Barometric pressure. Not surprisingly, the weight of the atmosphere can have a fairly big impact on lung comfort. Barometric pressure is a way to calculate how heavy the air feels – that is, how much moisture is suspended in the air. Warm air holds more moisture than cold air, which means water molecules take up more space, leaving less room for oxygen molecules. So, on days with high barometric pressure, you will take in less oxygen which each breath.
How Lungs React to Moisture and Humidity
COPD reactions, like asthma attacks, are notoriously difficult to predict. Some find humid days more comfortable, while others breathe easier in warm, dry air, and although you could fall on either side of this equation, experts believe that minimal humidity is best for COPD patients. In the end, you should aim for a 40% humidity level (both inside and outside of your home), which will limit some common triggers, like:
- Mold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that those with COPD are more sensitive to mold, and humid air is the perfect breeding ground. Mold exposure can irritate the throat and lungs, lead to more wheezing and congestion, and worsen asthma symptoms.
- Dust mites. When humidity levels climb above 50%, dust mite populations grow. Most people with chronic lung disease will agree that dust is high on the list of triggers, so it’s important to do what you can to limit the buildup.
- Exertion. Humid air has a high water content, which makes it denser, and harder to work. In very humid environments, every breath can become a conscious effort, as the lungs continue to resist airflow and act of inhaling continues to sap your energy.
Keeping humidity down is not as easy as you might imagine. Heating and cooling systems kick into gear when seasons change, and it can be difficult to detect relative humidity just by feeling alone. A humidity monitor is a great tool for COPD patients, and a simple addition to your home air management plan.
Next page: tips for coping with weather changes.