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Talking about a heat wave- asthma and heat.

Talking About a Heat Wave – Asthma and Heat

In my neck of the woods, the last few weeks have been filled incredible days of extreme heat. There was a time when I did not have to be concerned at all about the heat wreaking havoc my lungs. I used to hear the heat warnings on the news and not think much about them. That is something that has certainly changed for me. I am now hugely affected by weather conditions, especially heat and humidity. I was recently at an outdoor event and I felt like I was literally melting and needed to seek shelter and a cooler climate quickly. One minute I was fine, the next, my friend the wheeze was ever-present.

The science of asthma and heat

I was doing some research recently and came across some studies that noted that the mechanics of increased temperature effects on asthma are not fully known. It is suspected that increased temperatures and humidity are connected to an increase in airway triggers and bronchoconstriction.

Changes in temperature are thought to lead to airway obstruction, which is associated with asthma attacks, changes in the onset and length of the pollen season, and increased pollen production.1-2 Even thunderstorms, which are somewhat associated with heat events, are thought to trigger the release of fungal spores that are carried by the wind. This results in increased exposure to these triggers.3-5  At times heat events are also connected to heavy rainfalls which can also affect the humidity in the environment and contribute to changes in airflow in the respiratory system, this can lead to asthma exacerbations.7-9 Increased heat can lead to higher concentrations of  ground-level ozone are also possibly related to asthma risks.6

Implications due to hot weather and asthma

What does this mean for me on hot days? If I had to categorize my most significant issue with heat recently. I believe it would be the theories surrounding the changes in airflow in the respiratory system and bronchoconstriction. My symptoms would lead me to believe that this is what I am having the most difficulty with. I have felt like I simply can not move air in or out. I am working on learning more about the science of these theories and will report back when I have further updates.

I need to be more proactive in preparing for hot days to keep exacerbations at bay. I have failed at doing this for the first couple of heat events this season, however, that is going to change. I will be keeping an eye out for weather warnings, heat advisories, and other related health warnings. These are common issues on weather reports from government, environment and health agencies. This will help guide me in making the best decisions for outdoor activities and impending changes to my asthma status. 

How I’m managing asthma and heat

I will be limiting my outdoor exposure on these hot days. Even quick trips out that had previously not bothered me, are now going to be rescheduled for later.  I thankfully have air conditioning and will be spending more time in nice cozy cooler temps.  I will also be discussing with my doctor if making some changes in my asthma action plan will help my discomfort during heat waves.

I am going to try an experiment for the remainder of the summer. I will track my symptoms and peak flows;  to evaluate trends prior to heat event days to see if I can find a pattern and track the amount of rescue SABA that I am using. Confession, I don’t always track this information. I know that many of you may be reading this in horror. I am part of a specialized asthma centre that tracks asthma control by sputum  cell counts.

I promise to report back at the end of this summer with the results of my experiment. Till then, stay hydrated, cool and away from increased heat-related triggers.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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  • Cecchi L, D’Amato G, Ayres JG, Galan C, Forastiere F, Forsberg B, et al. Projections of the effects of climate change on allergic asthma: the contribution of aerobiology. Allergy. 2010;65(9):1073–1081
  • Ziska L, Knowlton K, Rogers C, Dalan D, Tierney N, Elder MA, et al. Recent warming by latitude associated with increased length of ragweed pollen season in central north America. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 2011;108:4248–4251. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1014107108.
  • Anderson W, Prescott GJ, Packham S, Mullins J, Brookes M, Seaton A. Asthma admissions and thunderstorms: a study of pollen, fungal spores, rainfall, and ozone. QJM. 2001;94:429–433. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/94.8.429.
  • Dabrera G, Murray V, Emberlin J, Ayres JG, Collier C, Clewlow Y, et al. Thunderstorm asthma: an overview of the evidence base and implications for public health advice. QJM. 2013;106:207–217. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcs234.
  • D’Amato G, Liccardi G, Frenguelli G. Thunderstorm-asthma and pollen allergy. Allergy. 2007;62:11–16. doi: 10.1111/j.1398-9995.2006.01271.x.
  • Exposure to extreme heat and precpitation events associated with increased risk of hospitalization for asthma in Maryland, U.S.A.
Sutyajeet Soneja, Chengsheng Jiang, Jared Fisher, Crystal Romeo Upperman, Clifford Mitchell, Amir Sapkota
Environ Health. 2016; 15: 57. Published online 2016 April 27. doi: 10.1186/s12940-016-0142-z
  • Strauss RH, McFadden ER, Ingram RH, Deal EC, Jaeger JJ. Influence of heat and humidity on the airway obstruction induced by exercise in asthma. J Clin Invest. 1978;61:433–440. doi: 10.1172/JCI108954
  • Aitken ML, Marini JJ, Culver BH. Humid air increases airway resistance in asthmatic subjects. West J Med. 1988;149:289–293.
  • Mireku N, Wang Y, Ager J, Reddy RC, Baptist AP. Changes in weather and the effects on pediatric asthma exacerbations. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol
  • Comments

  • Marytattoo
    5 months ago

    There are various phone apps for keeping track of asthma symptoms.

    I was recently dxed w/asthma at age 61. I’ve always had a difficult time with heat; I hate summer! I didn’t know my symptoms were asthma. In my family, everything was labeled sinus. I didn’t know that my little squeaks when I breathe are wheezing. So far, I use an inhaler when needed. I don’t know if I have mild asthma or am used to just living with symptoms. In any event, I know that breathing is harder during high heat. I too hole up in the AC. Fortunately, I’m retired. Good thing I love to read!

  • Sumra Alvi moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Marytattoo! I’m glad you’re in a good place with your asthma diagnosis and have a routine that helps you feel better. What are you reading these days? I’d love to hear more about the activities you’re doing indoors during this massive heatwave! Warmly, Sumra (Asthma.net Team)

  • patty49er
    5 months ago

    I am a teacher who is transferring to a new school, and I worry about how hot my new classroom will be at the beginning of the school year. I had air conditioning at my old school, but will not at my new school. As for keeping hydrated, I only can to a point, because as a teacher, I can’t go to the restroom whenever I want. My asthma has been very well-controlled for several years, and I don’t want to lose that. I don’t do well in extreme heat; I tend to feel nauseated and get bad headaches. It can also make my breathing a little more labored. I’m going to try to see my asthma doctor before school starts. Any other suggestions?

  • Marytattoo
    5 months ago

    Something cold against the back of my neck always helps.

  • Sumra Alvi moderator
    5 months ago

    Love this tip Marytattoo! Do you try to drink any cold beverages? So happy you shared with us! Warmly, Sumra (Asthma.net Team)

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi Marytattoo and thanks for sharing with the community what you have had success with when managing this condition in the heat. We appreciate your input. Leon (site moderator)

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi patty49er – Congratulations on the new job! It’s exciting to start fresh somewhere. However, I understand your apprehention about not having air conditioning.
    My hope would be that it’s not extremely hot – I wouldn’t think that would be conducive to learning. So, it might be sufficient to have a fan that would at least move the air around. Sometimes just having movement helps as long as it’s not excessively hot.
    I’ve had others with asthma tell me that having ice chips to put in their mouth when it’s hot has helped as well. I’ve never tried that, but it’s a thought.
    I think its a great idea to see your doctor before school starts. Make sure you start well rested and healthy.
    Regards,
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Richard Faust
    3 years ago

    Thanks for the article and all the great information on being proactive in examining what may trigger asthma. Weather is certainly a trigger for many. For everyone out there, here is a piece from the editorial team looking at outdoor air triggers, including cold air: https://asthma.net/triggers/outdoor-air/. In addition, here is another article examining different types of triggers, also including the weather extremes: https://asthma.net/living/lets-talk-triggers/. Best, Richard (Asthma.net Team)

  • JanetH
    3 years ago

    Absolutely hot, humid days are bad for asthma. Everyone is like, yay summer! And I’m always hoping it won’t be TOO hot (alas, to blight my hopes this season). Be mindful of weather, like you said. Ideally you should try to exercise/work outside in the morning or evening. But to add to the joy, you have to keep pollen counts in mind, if you have allergic asthma. It can be done, it’s a balancing act, like everything else in life.

  • Richard Faust
    3 years ago

    Thanks JanetH for joining the conversation. The heat certainly can be an issue for asthma sufferers. Pollen and other allergens can certainly acerbate the problems. This article discusses how to find information about local air quality: https://asthma.net/living/expert-answers-is-there-a-way-to-get-more-information-about-the-air-quality-in-my-area/. In addition, this article looks at hay fever, how it can affect asthma, and what can be done about it: https://asthma.net/symptoms/hay-fever/. Good luck with the balancing. Best, Richard (Asthma.net team)

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Excellent points, JanetH!
    We appreciate you sharing your experiences with the community.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • unwrapped76
    3 years ago

    I feel like this whole time everyone around me has no clue the frustrations I deal with on a daily basis with my asthma and breathing issues. I have known for a while heat always makes me feel worse . This year is the first time I have canceled something with my kids due to the heat. Makes me sad!

  • Donna Flood-Amaya
    3 years ago

    Hi unwrapped76. As a mom, I understand that one of the hardest things is feeling like you have disappointed your children. I have learned from watching my children that they can be much more attuned to me, and to what’s going on with me than other people. I’ve also learned that they are much more forgiving of me than I am of myself. Grab a hug, soak up the love and let them teach you how to be gentle with yourself.

    Thanks for being part of the community and sharing your thoughts and frustrations. We’re always here to listen and lend support. -All Best, Donna (Asthma.net team)

  • Richard Faust
    3 years ago

    Sorry to hear that you are having difficulties unwrapped76. Please know that your frustrations are shared by many of the participants in our forums. It is often difficult for others to understand when conditions simply won’t allow you to participate in an event. I don’t know if you currently have an asthma action plan, but many asthma patients find it helpful. These articles discuss developing a plan: https://asthma.net/living/lets-talk-action-plans/ https://asthma.net/coping/developingactionplan/. Thanks again for sharing and hope you continue to contribute. Best, Richard (Asthma.net Team)

  • Leon Lebowitz, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Unwrapped76 and thanks for your comment. Others in our community of expressed a similar sentiment; having to cancel or postpone plans based on their asthma and breathing issues. Perhaps it will easy the sadness to know you’re not alone. Besides this website, you may want to check out our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/asthmadotnet/ There, you’ll be able to interact with many people who all have asthma in common! There are always interesting conversations taking place there.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

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