Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is an umbrella term for conditions that affect the functioning of the lungs and cause problems with breathing. COPD is progressive and in most cases worsens with time. A person is said to have a flare-up of COPD when he or she starts having worsening of symptoms without any apparent trigger. This is an emergent situation and the individual needs to be taken to the hospital as some complications may be potentially serious. A person with a typical flare-up of COPD will have pronounced wheezing with increased mucous production, constant coughing, and worsening shortness of breath.[1, 2, 3]
A flare-up of COPD normally happens in the face of a triggering mechanism. These triggers may include environmental surroundings, allergies, or secondhand smoke. One of the trigger which is not too often looked at is the weather conditions. It has been observed that the symptoms of COPD tend to worsen with very high or very low humidity. Humidity at a particular area plays quite a significant role in how a person with COPD will be affected.[1, 2, 3]
Dr. Philip Factor from Beth Israel Hospital in New York observes that in majority of the cases people with COPD should live in a place where humidity level is about 40%. Anything above it or below it may affect the symptoms of COPD. The article below describes how humid conditions causes flare-up of COPD.
Can Humid Conditions Cause A Flare-Up Of COPD?
As stated, above, humidity does cause a flare-up of COPD symptoms. Below we will see how exactly it happens. We will divide it into two categories, namely very high humid conditions and very low humid conditions.
High Humid Conditions: Places with relatively high humidity has high water content in the air making it dense. This makes it harder for a person to breathe, especially if the air is hot. The high density air increases airway resistance in the body. This makes the body work that much harder to carry out the exercise of breathing resulting in exacerbation of COPD symptoms especially shortness of breath. Due to problems with breathing the person will also feel constantly fatigued.
Additionally, in hot humid environment the body also needs to work hard to keep itself cool. For this, excess oxygen is required which again may exacerbate the symptoms of shortness of breath. A study done in 2017 in which around 83 people were selected, the scientists asked these participants to record their symptoms along with room temperature and humidity levels for a period of one and a half years. Analysis of this data clearly indicated that high humid weather conditions contributed to increased COPD symptoms.
Another fact about high humid conditions is that it promotes growth of mold, especially in offices and homes and mold is one of the most common triggers for COPD flare-up. COPD causes the airways to become ultrasensitive and mold further worsens the irritation to the lungs. This leads to symptoms of coughing, wheezing, and excess production mucous. The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States recommends keeping the humidity levels below 60% to prevent mold formation.
Low Humidity: It has also been observed that very low humidity can also worsen the symptoms of COPD. Too much dry air in cold weather conditions result in narrowing of the airways causing bronchospasm. This in turn worsens the symptoms of COPD.
How To Manage Humidity And Prevent COPD Flare-Up?
It is recommended for people with COPD to take the following steps to prevent worsening of COPD due to humidity.
Monitor Outdoor Humidity Levels: It is important to keep a track of the outdoor humidity levels. This can be done easily by looking at the weather report. Smartphones especially have a separate application depicting world weather. Based on the current weather, one can decide whether to go out or not and what precautions to take.
Restricted Activity: It is recommended to exercise caution while participating in any activity in high humid conditions. It is recommended to stay indoors as much as possible. In conditions where the weather is too cold and the air is dry it is better to cover the nose and face with a warm scarf so that the air that enters the lungs becomes warm and prevents any irritation.
Avoid Overexertion: In extremes of humid climate it is better for people with COPD to slow down their activities and not to overexert themselves to prevent a flare-up of the symptoms. Segregating the work into smaller tasks and taking rest as and when needed is highly recommended.
Stay Hydrated: It is also essential for people with COPD to stay hydrated in hot humid conditions. This is because the hot weather conditions cause the body to lose more fluids. This can further exacerbate the symptoms of COPD.
Control Indoor Humidity: This can be done by using dehumidifier or an air-conditioner. It is recommended the humidity levels be set anywhere between 30-50% to prevent any flare-up of COPD. People can also open the windows or use an exhaust fan in moist areas like the bathrooms and basement. Care should be taken to prevent any accumulation of water especially around the corners as it promotes growth of mold.
A person should consult a physician immediately in cases of there is severe flare-up of symptoms including severe shortness of breath, changes in mucous in color and amount. A person should also consult with a physician in situations where there is an increase in the requirement for fast acting inhalers and unexplained fatigue. A visit to the nearest emergency room is required for people with chest pain, severe shortness of breath, bluish discoloration of the lips, and altered mental awareness.
In conclusion, humid conditions play a vital role in the exacerbation of COPD. This is for both very high and very low humidity but worsening of the symptoms is seen more in hot weather with high humidity. The reason for this is high humid conditions relates to increased moisture in the air. This makes the air dense. Due to this, the body has to work extra hard for the person to be able to breathe and the already existing problems with the lungs it can cause worsening of the symptoms of COPD.[1, 2, 3]
In areas where the temperature is very cool and the air is dry, when inhaled it causes irritation of the lungs causing symptoms of COPD to worsen. The best way to avoid humidity making COPD worse is by taking precautions when in hot weather conditions. It is recommended to stay indoors and not venture out during the day as much as possible.[1, 2, 3]
It is also beneficial to not overexert and divide and work and rest equally. It is important for a person to go to the nearest emergency room in situations where the symptoms are severe to an extent that there is bluish discoloration of the lips and nails or there is alteration of mental awareness due to worsening of COPD symptoms.[1, 2, 3]