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4073 Posts

Posted - Aug 18 2007 :  12:12:28 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
An active thread on the COPD list this week was "Trouble Breathing In Hot
Weather." Folks from across the nation and even a few international members
shared their personal knowledge/problems. I've culled a few responses and
did a bit of research to hopefully gain perspective and perhaps even a bit
of relief.

Weather and Breathing
Changes in temperature seem to affect the level of dyspnea (the sensation of
shortness of breath). How could temperature have an effect? Extreme hot or
cold conditions stress the entire body. In an effort to maintain a constant
body temperature (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), you expend additional energy to
warm or cool your body. This additional energy requirement also increases
the amount of oxygen your body is using. Breathing hot or cold air can also
have a drying or irritating effect on the airway causing bronchospasm.
Bronchospasm decreases the size of the airway.

High humidity is also a cause of increased complaints of shortness of
breath. There are a couple of possible explanations for this phenomenon.
First, as humidity increases, the density of the air increases. More dense
air creates more resistance to airflow in the airway resulting in an
increased work of breathing. Another possible explanation is that as
humidity increases, the prevalence of many known airborne allergens
increases. Dust mites and molds both increase in high humidity.

Barometric Pressure and Elevation
As barometric pressure drops, less oxygen is available in the air. This is
the same principle that causes a decrease in oxygen level as you travel to
higher elevations. The total pressure is less and so the oxygen component is

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are common types of COPD. Such respiratory
ailments often are aggravated in hot weather because of an increased amount
of particulate matter, a microscopic form of air pollution.

The original post from Carolyn/MO: I was wondering if any of you are having
more of a problem breathing in hot weather compared to cooler weather. I
live in Missouri and this week the temps on some days have reached a high of
103 degrees with no end in sight for several more days. Even though I have
my air conditioning on full force, my breathing is more labored. I also have
allergies and maybe this is a contributing factor. Does anyone else have
problems with breathing in hot, hot weather?

Sue/NC: I think the single best thing I have done is to get a dehumidifier
for my home. When I was in rehab I ask about the bet humidity for us in the
summer as I could always tell such a big difference in my breathing there
(it was much better) I was told between 38% and 42% was the optimum.I got it
last summer and have gotten 2 gallons a day out of my house and one week
when it was so bad I got 4 gallons a day out.(I have to empty it)...I have
now been one year with only one exacerbation.This also has surprised me as I
only keep my A/C on 74 at the lowest.Previous years I have had to keep it on
temp anywhere from 68-72.I realize we each have our own 'comfort level' but
this has sure been a wonderful bonus for me.

Elisabeth/MS: I live in Mississippi and with the high temperatures and the
humidity it is almost unbearable. Like you, until recently my Air
conditioners were great but since the really hot temps...(it) seems not to
cool as well as it did. I have found that if I put a fan in my face and sit
still I can handle it. Not much of a life though. It seems that this has got
to be the hottest temperatures we have ever endured or my COPD is just not
comfortable with it.

Maggi/IL: Like so many of you, I'm suffering through this summer's
weather......and I'm one of those people who first thing in the morning pop
on the weather channel...and get a pretty good idea of what the day's going
to be like breathing-wise once I see the humidity. But, whoa! This summer, I
noticed that what's really making me crazy isn't completely to blame on
humidity but the "dew point" has been going berserk. I'm not totally
understanding the difference between humidity and dew point since they both
relate to water content in air thereby making the air "heavier" (less
oxygenated) for us to breathe but I found information on the Internet that
totally corresponds to how easy - or not - it is for me to breathe daily -
or not. (Source: Mark Margarit of WHDH-TV Boston Channel 7 Weather).

Humans tend to react with discomfort to high dew points. Those accustomed to
continental climates often begin to feel uncomfortable when the dew point
reaches between 15 and 20 C (59 to 68 F). Most inhabitants of these areas
will consider dew points above 21 C (70 F) to be oppressive.

Dew Points
20+C (68F) Oppressive
18C (64F) Sticky
16C (61F) Humid
13C (55F) Comfortable
10C (50F) Refreshing

The past ten days in the Chicagoland area the dew point has not been below
68F.....and while the humidity's been ranging from 54-100% and the temps
have been down to perhaps 75F a couple nights.....what's done me in are the
extremely "oppressive" dew points whenever I'm out of the air conditioning.
Even with the a/c on in my apartment, I'm a bit more sluggish than usual --
and I'm blaming dew point; that's my story and I'm stickin' to it <g>.

Tony/TX: I have trouble with either extreme. Either hot or cold.It was 104
in Dallas today and I was only out this morning around 10 a.m. and it was
already hot enough to cause a lot of difficulty in breathing. If I run the
AC and point a vent straight at my face it helps a lot. I know of one quick
solution to being hot and SOB that I heard a few years back before I had my
transplant and that was to put your face in your freezer on your
refrigerator and take a few breaths. I have done this and it really worked
for me. It was strangely easy to breathe that very cold air.

Mimi: ...someone posted that breathing the air in your freezer would help
you to get more air into your lungs. Well, I'm one of those that will try
anything. I live in a three story home, so stairs are a part of my daily
life. Generally when I come up here to mess around with the computer, I
arrive in my office really, really out of breath. This morning (as an
inquiring mind) I opened my freezer and took a bunch of good, deep whiffs
(good thing it was clean!), then I walked the same stairs that usually
render me breathless. Well, I'm here to tell you that it works! I got to the
top and I was amazed that I wasn't puffing like a steam engine. Now, why
would this work? My guess is that hot things expand and cold things shrink.
So, if you get that cold air into your lungs it is going to shrink
(temporarily) your inflammation. Anyway, that's my take on it. All I know is
that if I come in from gardening out of breath I'm heading for my freezer
and not a rescue inhaler. Also, when I know I'm coming up here, you know
where you'll find my head (little wink). I just hope my kids don't pop by
for a surprise visit when I'm taking a nap in the Frigidaire, LOL!

Steve: It seems to be the weather changes....which is related to barometric
pressure...A day or two into the new change I do better.

Don/SD: I have the same problem and in fact am having to struggle today and
it's no fun. Setting in front of fan not much help, A/C helps . Got the
dehumidifier going also and don't notice much difference. I don't know about
you guys but the old chest gets sore from the struggle all day and most of
the night. Is it the weather or maybe my COPD is getting worse. Only time
will tell I guess.

SOURCES: News items summarized in The COPD-NEWS are taken from secondary
sources believed to be reliable. However, the COPD Family of Services does
not verify their accuracy.

Anon/LA:... humidity's been killing me. But you know what I do and it really
seems to help. I have a fan going 24/7. Not sure if it's just in my mind but
it helps me breath. shrug. I even have a fan going in the winter. I have a
real aversion to not having a fan going all the time.

Sam04: I find also the best bet is a fan or A/C...if you need to be upright
at night, check with medical supply company. There is a special form that
you put under your pillow or mattress and it will keep your head raised.
I've had one now for 4 months and find that it helps a lot at night (stopped
me from sleeping in a chair).

Anon: Humidity is the worst. I was using my inhalers at least 10 times a day
for asthma attacks for a few of those really humid days. You should carry a
paper fan, like one of those compact kind that wraps into a small rectangle
or something. Recently, fanning myself with a brochure helped me when I got
into a little lift car that was poorly ventilated and there was not enough
air flow.

Buzz: Yeppers, Hot weather is hard on me too. I have to sleep with the
ceiling fan all the time. Even in the winter. The air has to be moving. My
eyes sure pay for it. Now I sleep with a sock filled with rice over my eyes
to keep them from drying out. And for an added touch at times I warm the
sock in the microwave for 30 seconds. Oh heaven...that is on the eyes. At
least something can feel good when I have a hard time breathing. A/C is my
friend. I managed to get hold of a couple of old ones that friends were
throwing away. I only use them when I am in the room, have to save money. I
don't need them to cool the place just to breath.

Dave, Forum Administrator
COPD Support, Inc.
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2 Posts

Posted - Oct 11 2007 :  4:13:35 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
what about us that have a hard time in Michigan's winter??? any suggestions?? everyone in this article seems to do better in the cold, I don't do well in humidity either, but these winters are worse for me and of course I susposedly in the end stage of copd but not enough to qualify for a lung transplant yet, I go back to U of M in nov, but like everyone else with this disease each time I get sick it takes forever to recoop,
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607 Posts

Posted - Oct 11 2007 :  6:30:40 PM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I have trouble here in Mich in the extreme cold if it gets much below 20 degrees. I am fine inside but what I have found if I have to go out is to try to have car warmed ahead of time, wrap a light scarf losely around your mouth and nose so that the air warms a bit before breathing it. It isn't much but it is better then nothing. I have tried the masks in winter and I just don't do well with a mask unless it is absolutely necessary.

With this up and down weather we have been having it is the pits! But I am not willing to move somewhere else at this stage in my life. I hope the winter isn't too hard on us this year!

COPD Support
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60 Posts

Posted - Oct 13 2007 :  10:32:22 AM  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
When the temperature drops, the air being a gas, contracts. After contracting there are more molecules of O2 in a liter of colder air (along with more of all the other gasses).

Our lung capacity remains the same, so we are getting more O2 in the same liter of cold air than in a liter warm air. I find that when I walk the aisles in the Supermarket, as soon as I get in the open-freezer aisles, I can breathe measurably better...that's the air holding more O2.

Of course, when the temperature fall is too great, the nose and sinus cavities can no longer warm the air sufficiently to prevent our airways from constricting, so we then get less air intake. Mouth-breathing will cause the cold air to reach our lungs almost unchanged and have a greater chance of constricting. -- Vic

Vic / Long Island

Edited by - Vic on Oct 14 2007 11:16:51 AM
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