Hot Weather Is Coming! Keep Breathing Easy With Your Asthma Even in the Heat
Last updated: May 2022
It may only be the beginning of the spring season in most areas of the United States, but summer is coming, and with it, hot and sometimes humid weather. And, unfortunately, hot weather can make breathing easy a challenge for people who have asthma. Can you relate?
I don't know about you, but I'm not really a fan of hot weather. Even if I didn't have asthma, I wouldn't love it, but asthma just makes dealing with the heat even worse.
The impact of hot weather on asthma
There are a number of reasons why people like you and me, people with asthma, don't love summer heat. Everyone's asthma is different, and whether you have an allergic type of asthma vs. non-allergic, can also have an effect.
Some people are more affected by hot, humid air, while others feel the impact more from hot, dry air. Or, it could just be the extreme changes in environmental conditions that make the biggest effect. 1 For example, moving from a hot, humid day outside into a cool, air-conditioned building. Some people might welcome the relief, while asthmatics might experience an asthma attack as a result of the radical difference in air temperature.
It's not that heat triggers any different asthma symptoms. It's just that it can make what you're already dealing with even worse. The question is, why does heat affect some of us in this way?
How hot climate conditions make a difference with asthma
Experts are not sure exactly why or how heat can become a trigger for asthma symptoms, but there are a few theories. It's believed that just breathing in hot air may cause your airways to narrow, which leads to asthma symptoms such as:2
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
Pollen levels are on the rise
Starting in the spring, pollen levels begin to rise in the air you breathe. In the early to late spring, trees are blooming and sending out millions of pollen particles. Then late spring into summer, when hot temperatures are first beginning to be felt, depending on where you live, it's grass pollen. And finally, in late summer, when temps are often at their highest levels, it's weed pollen that is in play.3
If you have allergic asthma, pollen can be a powerful trigger. I know it's one of my worst asthma triggers.
Humid air is heavy and harder to breathe in
Have you ever felt that it is harder to breathe when atmospheric conditions are hot and humid? A study published a few years ago found that humid air actually increases airway inflammation and causes airways to narrow.4
Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT, here at Asthma.net states:
"If you’ve ever exercised on a hot, summer day you know that it seems harder to breathe. Add some humidity to the scenario, and breathing is even more difficult. These very same conditions seem to create much more difficulty for those with asthma. It is not entirely clear as to why the heat and humidity affect asthmatics the way they do. Quite simply, hot, humid air is heavier than ‘normal’ air and so, is more difficult to breathe. These conditions create a chain reaction of events that can raise the body temperature, increase sweating and possibly dehydration, and cause you to breathe at a faster rate. When a person with asthma is having difficulty breathing (no matter what the reason), these conditions can easily exacerbate asthma symptoms, even without actually causing them."
Besides the effect that breathing warm air, especially warm, humid air can have on your ability to breathe, there are other factors to consider. Hot, moist air creates the perfect breeding ground for mold growth and dispersal of mold spores into the air. It's also a great environment for dust mite growth. These are two of the main allergens for people who have allergic asthma.
Ozone levels rise in hot, sunshiny days
Besides the increase in allergen levels for pollen, mold, and dust mites, hot sunshiny days can also cause ozone levels to rise. And when that happens, air pollutants become trapped in the air. Air pollutants are a common irritant for people with asthma. While they don't produce an allergic reaction, per se, they do worsen existing asthma symptoms and contribute to a decline in asthma control.2,3
Thunderstorms and extreme weather can be a threat to asthma control
In hot summer conditions, extreme weather such as thunderstorms become more prevalent. Experts aren't entirely sure why but have identified that such weather conditions can trigger asthma attacks, sometimes severe.
It may be the airflow patterns during thunderstorms that cause this effect, rather than electrical activity such as thunder and lightning. It seems likely that these airflow patterns could result in more concentrated levels of pollen and mold, which could be one explanation for the increase in asthma attacks during thunderstorms.
Regardless of the reason, extreme weather definitely has had an impact on some of us asthmatics.
Tips for maintaining asthma control during the hot summer months
Planning ahead is the key to maintaining asthma control in the fact of hot, humid or hot, dry weather. Here are a few tips that can make a difference:
- Stay indoors as much as you can, where environmental conditions are more steady, especially if you have air conditioning. Try to limit outdoor times to early morning or after sunset, when temperatures are often more moderate.
- Watch the pollen and mold levels by checking local weather forecasts or using websites such as pollen.com. Stay indoors as much as you can when levels are high.
- Take your asthma and allergy medication as prescribed, including keeping your quick-relief inhaler on hand at all times.
- Drink plenty of cool water to keep yourself hydrated.
- Keep your Asthma Action Plan updated so you can respond to any slip in asthma control promptly.
With a little care and planning, you can prevent heat from becoming a significant factor when managing your asthma.
Has laughter ever triggered your asthma?