If you have interstitial lung disease causing pulmonary fibrosis, you may be especially vulnerable to its effects of heat, humidity, and smoke. Those with lung disease didn’t need one more situation to manage, but there are some things you can do to minimize the worst effects. This article looks at the effects of heat and humidity, provides tips for managing heat and humidity indoors and outdoors, and addresses how to check the air quality in your location.
What is so bad about high temperatures?
This year has brought miserable weather with record-setting high temperatures all over the northern hemisphere. High heat and high humidity come hand in hand and can make it uncomfortable and even dangerous for everyone, but especially those with lung disease. High temperatures (over 90 degrees Fahrenheit or over 32 degrees Celsius) certainly feels uncomfortable. Higher temperatures have many negative effects. Among those effects for the environment are:
- Warmer temperatures make pollution more likely, including smog and high ozone levels.
- Heat and dry weather can lead to wildfires, which burn hotter and faster and fill the air with smoke and particle pollution, which can travel long distances.
- Heat can trigger plants to release pollen, irritating those with allergies.
What does high heat do to the body?
- Higher temperatures cause your body systems to work harder to stay cool.
- A rise in temperature can increase your heart rate in order to pump oxygenated blood through your body.
- Heat and sweating can lower the level of fluid in your body, leading to dehydration.
- Sweating, one of the body’s ways to regulate heat becomes less effective in higher humidity.
What can you do to handle the heat and humidity?
While you can’t control the weather, there are strategies you can use to avoid overheating and to be more comfortable.
- Limit your time outdoors, especially during the hottest hours of the day, mid-morning to late afternoon.
- Stay in an air-conditioned environment. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, seek a place where you can cool off, such as shopping malls, libraries, or government-sponsored cooling centers.
- Avoid exertion in the heat. Avoid carrying heavy items and walking any distance that causes shortness of breath or desaturation.
- Pre-cool your car before getting in. Park in the shade, if possible.
- Drink extra water to keep from becoming dehydrated.
- Wear light, loose clothing.
Suggestions for indoors
- Keep direct sunlight out of your home by closing blinds or curtains when the temperature is hotter outside than inside.
- Shower to wet your skin and take advantage of the cooling effect. Wipe down with a cool, wet cloth.
- If it is cooler outside than inside, such as at night, bring in fresh air through open widows, if it is safe to do so.
- Use fans to circulate air, if they make you feel cooler.
- Use an air filter, if possible, to remove smog and smoke particulates from indoor air.
- If your home heating and ventilation system has a fan mode that will recirculate air, this can also be used to reduce the concentration of smoke particulates (furnace filters with higher MERV ratings will be more effective than filters with lower ratings).
- Clear or replace your air filters (and / or heating and ventilation filters) regularly so they will work efficiently.
- Use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity below 50%, if possible.
Suggestions for outdoors
- Limit your time outdoors.
- If smoke or smog is present, wear an N95 mask if you can.
- Breath through your nose, if possible, to help filter particulate pollution.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat or use an umbrella to block direct sunlight.
- Know the symptoms of overheating, such as heat rash, muscle cramps, fatigue, and dry skin.
What to know about air quality
The air quality index tells you how clean or polluted your local outdoor air is. From this index, you can know what associated health effects might be a concern for you. Know the air quality in your area. Here are some resources for learning the air quality in various areas:
- USA: www.airnow.gov
- UK: uk-air.defra.gov.uk/forecasting
- Canada: weather.gc.ca/airquality/pages/index_e.html
Pay attention to heat warnings and air quality warnings issued by local agencies. If there is high humidity, these warnings and most weather reports will generally include the Heat Index. The Heat Index is important because it tells you what the air temperature will feel like and how your body will respond at the current or expected humidity.
Higher temperatures are certainly uncomfortable and can be dangerous to your health. It makes sense to be aware and take individual precautions to protect your health. Just a few simple strategies can help you keep cool.
Find more information at these sources
Protecting Your Health: Protecting your lungs from pollution
How does a heat wave affect the human body?
What extreme heat does to the human body