Some people with asthma may experience fewer symptoms and flare-ups during the summer. Others may experience an increase in asthma symptoms leading to full-blown summer asthma attacks. Everyone has different triggers, but certain types of weather and seasonal changes can lead to attacks for some people.
For some people with seasonal asthma, summer is when asthma symptoms tend to improve. In many areas there are fewer triggers, such as respiratory viruses and cold, dry air. More time is spent outdoors so there is less exposure to indoor allergens. Heat and humidity of summer weather can make breathing difficult for people with asthma. Summer months also increase exposure to different asthma triggers such as tree, grass or ragweed pollen, and air pollution.
Hot Weather Aggravates Asthma
Heat waves often lead to poor air quality. Heat waves are known to trigger asthma symptoms in some people. When you breathe in hot air, it can irritate airways that are already narrowed. Heat and sunlight also can make pollution worse when they mix with chemicals in the air, creating smog.
Humidity helps common allergens like dust mites and mold thrive, aggravating allergic asthma. Heat and humid conditions can lead to constriction and narrowing of the airways. This makes breathing difficult for people with asthma. Breathing in hot air causes inflammation in the airways and also causes the airways to contract (bronchoconstriction), resulting in shortness of breath.
It has also been found that hot air holds more water vapors than cool air, resulting in less oxygen content and higher humidity in the air. This dense air can be difficult to breathe, especially for those with chronic lung problems.
Pollen Triggers Asthma
During the summer season, the pollen count in the air increases. This can trigger respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath in people suffering from respiratory illnesses such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Pollen is made up of tiny particles which are released by plants and trees as part of their reproductive cycle. It is an extremely fine powder and is spread by insects and the wind. Pollen can cause significant irritation and inflammation in people who are allergic to it. Pollen can be inhaled by humans and animals.
Climate change will potentially lead to both higher pollen concentrations and longer pollen seasons, causing more people to suffer more health effects from pollen and other allergens.
During extremely high temperatures, the air becomes stagnant and traps all the pollutants (including Particulate Matter 2.5 and ozone) in the air, which results in the worsening of respiratory symptoms.
Air stagnation usually occurs when the same air mass is parked over the same area for several days. During this time, the light winds cannot "cleanse" the buildup of smoke, dust, gases, and other industrial air pollution. The extreme heat and stagnant air during a heat wave increase the amount of ozone pollution and particulate pollution.
Heat also increases the risk of air pollution. It traps ozone and particulate matter from cars, trucks, and other sources. When in the air, these can be easily inhaled and cause asthma symptoms.
Dust Mites More Active in Summer
Dust mites peak during summer. Their spores get into the air and set off an allergic reaction. They thrive in warm, humid places and nest in beds, fabric, and carpets. Their residue can get into the air and set off sneezes, wheezes, and runny noses.
Dust mites are microscopic, eight-legged creatures, but they are not parasitic and do not bite. They don't burrow under the skin, like scabies mites or live in skin follicles, like skin follicle mites. Dust mites are so small they are virtually invisible to the naked eye. They are closely associated with people and animals because they feed on flakes of dead skin, or dander, that are shed by people and pets. Some people are allergic to them. Symptoms associated with dust mite allergies include sneezing, itchy, watery eyes, nasal stuffiness, runny nose, stuffy ears, respiratory problems, eczema, and asthma.
Many people notice these symptoms when they stir dust during cleaning activities. But dust also contains other allergens, including cat and dog dander, cigarette ash, cockroach droppings, mold spores and pollen.
To thrive, dust mites need warm temperatures (23-27 degrees Celsius) and high humidity levels (70-80 % relative humidity). When humidity is 60 % or lower, the mite population stops growing and dies out.
Asthmatics are more sensitive to dehydration than non-asthmatics. Dehydration worsens asthma. In hot weather, people sweat more and tend to suffer from dehydration. This can dry out the nasal passage, bronchial tubes, and lungs, resulting in shortness of breath. Dehydration can often be associated with a side effect of asthma and its medications.
Histamine is produced at a greater rate when a person is dehydrated. For those that suffer from any kind of asthma, but allergic asthma in particular, that would be an important component. If histamine is being produced, allergies are triggered, and therefore asthma is aggravated. When you are dehydrated, the lining of your airways and sinuses become dry. This dryness can result in asthma or other symptoms such as headache and nausea.
Dehydration can worsen exercise-induced asthma. Hydrating is especially important for those with asthma caused by exercise. When you exercise you tend to breathe through your mouth, causing dry air to enter your lungs. This dry air can contain triggers such as pollen or pollution, causing asthma symptoms
Tips to Prevent a Summertime Asthma Attack
Stay indoors, do not step out of the house unless necessary. Keep the windows and doors closed to keep the house cool. Stay updated about the weather conditions. If you do need to go out, wear a face mask to prevent the inhalation of pollutants and pollens. Avoid going out during the warmest time of the day, which is normally between 11 am and 3 pm. Plan the work or activities either in the early morning or evening when the air gets a little cooler.
Smokers must quit smoking to improve their breathing and lung function. Wear loose, light-colored cotton clothes during summers. Avoid practicing strenuous exercises such as running, cycling, or walking uphill with a heavy backpack.
Keep hydrating yourself by drinking plenty of water. Eat foods with high water content such as watermelon, melon, mango, and cucumbers.
Vitamin C might help protect your lung function and reduce the risk of asthma attacks. It is involved in the metabolism of histamine and prostaglandins, which are involved in bronchoconstriction. It can promote lung function and serum antioxidant levels by decreasing oxidative damage to the lung. Low vitamin C intake is associated with pulmonary dysfunction. Both adults and children with asthma have been found to have lower concentrations of vitamin C when compared to normal subjects. Dietary vitamin C intake is inversely related to cough and wheeze. Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, red and green peppers, kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, and cantaloupe.
Keep your body cool. Take frequent showers if you feel overheated. Maintain a cool house to decrease the number of dust mites and lower humidity and mold. Change air filters regularly. Monitor the levels of asthma triggers, such as pollen, grass, and the ozone. It’s best to not have rugs or carpets, but if you do, vacuum them regularly. Wash all sheets and pillowcases weekly in hot water to kill dust mites.
Daily medication to prevent asthma attacks, regardless of how you feel, is paramount. Always keep your rescue inhaler on hand for easy use when symptoms appear.