As we get into the summer months, patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other respiratory diseases are at risk. Added complications of their disease and also possible death are more likely in extreme heat. On the news, we have heard about the increase of deaths during heat waves. But it is not only extreme heat that can cause death in these patients. A study published in Health Education Research (1) found that there was more than the average number of deaths on regular hot summer days compared to the cooler months of the year. Many of these deaths are easily prevented.
Who is at risk?
Any person with a respiratory disease is at risk of having more trouble breathing in hot weather. These diseases include chronic bronchitis and chronic pneumonia (also known as COPD), asthma, and severe respiratory allergies. Lower economic classes are at a higher risk of complications of their disease on hotter days because they are less likely to have access to air-conditioning. These patients may also have an air-conditioner, but have to choose between buying food and running their air-conditioner. (1)
What can be done?
Home health care companies can identify people who are at risk of exposure to the hot weather and call their local health departments. This type of cooperation helps the health departments who don’t have the means to identify everyone at risk. People who do not have air-conditioning in their homes can be brought to senior centers or shopping areas where they can cool off during the day.
When people at risk do not want to leave their home, other means to help them cool off are necessary. Electric fans blowing on the person helps to cool the body. They should also reduce the amount of physical activity and increase the amount of water they drink. Even though they are not moving as much, the body becomes dehydrated easier in the heat. When patients with respiratory disease are dehydrated, it increases their risk of complications.
If you know of someone who does not have access to air-conditioning, you can bring them into your own home. This also applies to our pets. As an owner with a dog with a respiratory condition, I know that keeping him inside as much as possible will help him stay healthy. The less time a person (or pet) with a respiratory disease spends in hot weather, the easier they will breathe.
(1) Correlates of hot day air-conditioning use among middle-aged and older adults with chronic heart and lung diseases: the role of health beliefs and cues to action. Richard L., Kosatsky T., Renouf H. (2011). Health Educ Res. 26 (1): 77-88.doi:10.1093/her/cyqo72
Laurie M. DeChello, MPH, CPH
Altra Service Professionals (ASP) does not provide medical advice. If you have questions about your illness or treatment, please contact your doctor.