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Mid Coast Center for Community Health & Wellness Newsletter
June 2019
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Healthy Lungs in the Summer

Healthy Lungs

Summer has finally arrived here in Maine. For many, that means more time outdoors, increased levels of activity, and improved moods.

For some, however, summertime may mean trouble breathing. As the temperatures rise during the summer months, it is important to be aware of potential health threats due to the heat. This is especially true for aging adults.

Heat and Lung Health

Heat is often a trigger for people with lung issues.

Asthma gets worse in the heat and humidity. This is in part due to increased ozone from smog, exhaust fumes, and pollutants which can trigger asthma symptoms. Also, hot air can irritate your airway and lead to bronchospasm, a typical symptoms of asthma. This will cause one to feel chest tightness and shortness of breath.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a chronic breathing disease which is easily aggravated in summer heat. This is especially true if it is above 90 degrees and humid. When the body is hot, it has to work extra hard to cool off, resulting in the use of more oxygen which makes the lungs work harder.

Similar to all lung diseases, hot weather is not well tolerated for individuals with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). This is due to both high heat as well as humidity levels. High humidity means that the air has a higher water content thus making the air heavier. As the air gets heavier, it is harder to breathe.

Helpful Tips for Optimizing Lung Health in the Summer

  1. Give your Body Time to Adjust: When you live in a climate like ours, where it is not warm all year, give your body time to adjust to the heat. Do so with gradual exposure.
  2. Use an Air Conditioner: Most air conditioners remove moisture from the environment. Using an air conditioner will both cool and remove humidity from your environment, helping you to breathe easier.
  3. Keep Out of the Sun: Avoid being out in the sun for long periods of time and avoid the heat of midday. Not only will this protect your skin, but it will also help prevent your body temperature from getting too high. Overheating is a potential trigger for breathing problems.
  4. Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of liquids before you feel thirsty. If you are feeling thirsty, you have waited too long. Water is always the best choice, but in extreme heat options, beverages such as Gatorade may help you to avoid an electrolyte imbalance.
  5. Avoid Congestion: Minimize exposure to outdoor pollution by avoiding congested areas with a high amount of ozone and pollutants. These factors can make spending time outdoors unhealthy.
  6. Exercise Indoors: Don’t stop exercising during the summer, but do so in a cool indoor space. This will help you avoid heat exhaustion and overwork for your lungs.
  7. Choose the Right Products and Avoid Triggers: When gardening and doing outdoor chores, choose safe products and wear a mask if needed. Avoid oil-based paints and cleaning products that contain ammonia and bleach.
  8. Check the Air Quality Report: When you combine hot weather with smog and pollution, it can be challenging on your lungs. Look at your local air quality report and plan your activities around the forecast.
  9. Breathe Easier: Know the warning signs for more serious diseases and see a doctor if you notice symptoms.

Serious Symptoms to Note

Most lung diseases present with shortness of breath and a cough. If you find that you have a nagging, persistent cough not associated with physical exertion, it may be more than heat. Check with your physician to see what the cause may be.

Enjoy the Summer

Even if you have lung problems, there is no need to be afraid or lock yourself inside this season. Know the challenges and manage your activities accordingly. Stay as cool as you can, and take advantage of the pleasant weather.

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