Air quality and changing weather can sometimes wreak havoc on your ability to breathe.
In particular, rising heat and humidity can make it more difficult to catch your breath. If you have a chronic lung condition, such as asthma or COPD, you may struggle even more with changing weather conditions.
“People who have lung conditions have their own circumstances and triggers that make them feel better or worse,” says pulmonary medicine specialist Sumita Khatri, MD.
“For example, some people are more affected in the winter due to the cold temperatures that dry the air passages. Others are more affected in hot, humid weather, due to the heaviness of moisture in the air. And some are more affected when there are rapid changes in temperature and barometric pressure, which can make it difficult to readily adjust,” she says.
1. Adapt to the weather
Although it’s true you can’t change the weather, you can take steps to adapt.
“Taking measures to keep temperature fluctuations as minimal as possible can help,” says Dr. Khatri.
“For instance, if you’re going from hot weather into air conditioning, put on a sweater,” she says. ”When going from heated buildings into cold weather, dress warmly and cover your nose and mouth. The cover will help to warm and humidify the air as you breathe in.”
2. Avoid triggers you can control
In addition to temperature changes, there are other environmental triggers that can make it more difficult to breathe.
If you smoke, take steps to quit. If not, do your best to avoid secondhand smoke and other potential irritants, including:
- Other types of smoke
- Aerosol products
- Cleaning products
- Mold, dust and mildew
3. Use medications if needed
If you have a chronic lung condition, your doctor can prescribe medications to help you manage weather-related breathing difficulties. Medications commonly prescribed for chronic lung disease include:
- Anti-inflammatory agents
“In patients with both asthma and COPD, using medications or inhalers regularly that doctors prescribe to control inflammation will render the airways less sensitive to temperature fluctuations,” Dr. Khatri says. “The better you control your disease and inflammation, the more resilient your lungs will be.”
4. Embrace a healthy lifestyle
Once you’ve learned to adjust to changing air quality and avoid irritants, there are things you can do every day to help you breathe easier:
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Commit to a structured exercise program
- Prevent respiratory infections
- Control stress
5. Know when to see your doctor
Even though it may seem normal to have more difficulty breathing when weather conditions are extreme, there are times when you should seek medical help.
“In most cases, shortness of breath is not normal,” says Dr. Khatri.
“Any new shortness of breath should be immediately evaluated, as should any shortness of breath that can’t be explained by the cold or flu or by just being ‘out of shape’,” she says. “And if at any point you notice you’re having breathing difficulty that’s interfering with your normal activity, you need to seek medical care to have your symptoms further evaluated.”