NEWS | June 19, 2017

Surviving summer with chronic lung disease

Extra precautions are necessary with higher temps and reduced air quality

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.)

Summer days of high heat and poor air quality can be extremely challenging for those with COPD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and other lung conditions. Combined with the increased likelihood of fires, extra precautions are necessary.

UC Davis pulmonary and air-quality specialists encourage those with chronic lung disease to check the air-quality index (AQI) each day in their local newspapers or on the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District website: www.sparetheair.com.

“The AQI is a prediction of the level of pollutants in the atmosphere we breathe,” said Anthony Wexler, professor of engineering and director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis. “It’s based on what is known about the next day’s weather combined with assumptions about activities that increase ozone and particulates.”

While wildfires intermittently increase particulate matter in the air, ozone is a daily concern during summer, Wexler explained. It is created by gases caused by emissions from, for instance, factories, outdoor grills and cars that create a layer of air pollution close to the ground. Increased sunlight and heat put ozone formation into overdrive.

“There’s a lot more chemistry happening near the Earth’s surface during summer that exacerbates inflammation, which plays a big role in the progression of COPD and other lung diseases,” said Kent Pinkerton, a pulmonary health researcher and director of the Center for Health and the Environment at UC Davis. “It’s not just recommended, it’s essential to be cautious.”

15 hot-weather tips

In addition to watching the weather and AQI reports, UC Davis respiratory therapist and pulmonary rehabilitation program coordinator Aimee Kizziar offers these 15 tips for surviving summer with a lung condition:

The air quality index is used by government agencies to communicate predictions of levels of ozone and particulates in the atmosphere on a scale of 0 to 500. Those with lung diseases like COPD need to take extra precautions when the AQI reaches 101.
AQI valueLevel of health concern
0-50Good
51-100Moderate
101-150Unhealthy for sensitive groups
151-200Unhealthy
200-300Very unhealthy
  • If the AQI is 101 or higher, stay indoors. “While it can be frustrating, nothing matters more than breathing,” said Kizziar.
  • Also stay indoors when the thermometer reaches 100. Lung disease and its medications can interfere with the body’s natural ability to cool down and increase sensitivities to heat.
  • Stay cool. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, go to a mall or a friend’s house that does. Air conditioning also helps take humidity out of the air, making it easier to breathe.
  • Close window coverings during the day, as it helps air conditioning work more efficiently.
  • Keep in contact with family and friends. Interaction relieves the isolation of being house-bound and, Kizziar believes, “A little conversation is great medicine.”
  • If your pulmonary rehabilitation program includes exercise therapy, do light exercises at home with resistance bands.
  • When exercising, pace yourself. It’s OK on hotter days to avoid exertion.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day. If you are monitoring your fluid intake for other health-related diseases, talk with your physician about the best hydration options for you.
  • Plan outside activities around the forecasted temperature and heat index. If you have to be out and about, do so early in the day to avoid peak temperatures.
  • Park in shady areas, and never sit or rest in a parked car.
  • Carry an umbrella or floppy hat for instant shade, and wear loose-fitting cotton clothing with sandals or lightweight socks and shoes.
  • Cool off with a fan or mister or by placing cool damp washcloth on your wrist at the pulse site, forehead or neck.
  • Remember to take medication in the early stages of exacerbations.
  • Sign up for daily AQI emails from Spare the Air or download the Spare the Air app, which provides current air quality information for specific areas.
  • Above all, know your triggers, monitor your symptoms and be aware of how you feel. Call your doctor’s office if shortness-of-breath increases, and don’t delay getting to urgent care or an emergency department if your symptoms worsen and don't respond to medication.

More information about UC Davis Health, including its pulmonary health research and patient-care programs, is at health.ucdavis.edu.