Looking after your lungs in hot weather

Warm weather, long days, high pollen count – during the summer, it can often be a challenge dealing with your COPD symptoms.

The British Lung Foundation offers advice on how you can combat the flare-ups brought about by the hotter weather.

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Everyone looks forward to going on holiday and getting away from the routine. If you’re living with a lung condition, or looking after someone who is, it can take a bit more planning.

As summer approaches and the temperature rises, lots of people call our helpline asking what they can do to keep well in the hot weather. If you’re living with a lung condition, you may find that high temperatures cause your symptoms to flare up.

This could be because you’re dehydrated and too hot, making you feel worse. Or it could be because strong sunshine has caused the level of ozone in the air to rise. High levels of ozone can cause breathing problems and trigger symptoms if you have a lung condition like asthma or COPD.

If you know you’re affected by hot weather, there are things you can do to help keep yourself well. Here are our top tips during a heatwave:

Avoid the heat

If a heatwave is forecast, don’t go outside during the hottest time of day, normally between 11 am and 3 pm. If you have to go out, plan your day around the early morning or evening when the air is cooler.

Keep out of the sun

If you do need to go out during the day, avoid being in the sun for long stretches. Wear loose, cool clothing and a hat.

Certain antibiotics and medications like pirfenidone can make you more sensitive to sunlight. If you’re taking one of these medications, you’ll burn more quickly, so make sure you cover up and wear high factor sun cream. Always check the information leaflet that came with your medication.

Pack a bag of essentials

If you’re going out, take a bag of essentials. Include any medication that you might need, plenty of water and a fan.

Exercise sensibly

Exercise brings a lot of benefits if you have a lung condition, but in hot weather you should take care to avoid overheating. Do your exercise indoors in a cool, well-ventilated room or gym. Try to do activities like housework and gardening in the early morning or evening when it’s cooler.

If you do get breathless, use some breathing control techniques to ease the symptoms.

During a very hot spell, you may want to think about reducing or avoiding strenuous activity until the weather cools down.

Drink cold water

Have a drink of cold water regularly even if you don’t feel thirsty – it’s important to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol, which makes you pee more and causes you to dehydrate.

Keep your house cool

Closing blinds or curtains can help to keep your house cool. If it’s cooler in your house than outside, close the windows to keep the cool air in. At night when the air outside is cooler, open your windows if it’s safe to do so.

Take cool baths or showers

If you feel overheated, take a cool bath or shower or splash yourself with cool water.

Use a fan

Try using a handheld fan. Hold it about six inches away and let the cool air blow towards the centre of your face. Remember to keep your fan clean, so that you don’t blow dust into your face. A floor standing fan or desktop fan can also help, and you may sleep better if you have a fan in your bedroom at night.

Eat as normal

Try to eat as normal – even if you aren’t hungry. You need a normal diet to replace the salt you lose through sweating. Cold foods like salad and fruit are particularly good because they contain a lot of water. 

Check pollution and pollen

Air pollution can trigger your symptoms, so avoid areas of high pollution such as busy roads. You can check pollution levels online, and if you have hay fever or other allergies, you should also check the pollen count.

These tips will help you cope in hot weather, but you should always be prepared for a flare-up. Make sure you have enough medication at home. You should have a written plan that you’ve agreed with your health care professional so you know what to do if you feel unwell.

If you have more questions about dealing with hot weather, you can talk to someone on the British Lung Foundation helpline either by asking your question online or calling 03000 030 555.