Weather Conditions

Effect of the weather on lung conditions

It is important for people with lung conditions to be aware of changes in weather, as extreme weather conditions can worsen symptoms. Inhaling hot, humid air in very hot weather can cause airway inflammation and trigger symptoms. It has also been linked to an increase in respiratory tract infections. Hot weather brings with it more air pollution, which can affect breathing. Cold, dry air and strong winds can irritate airways and cause wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

How to stay well in hot weather

In hot weather it is important to stay well hydrated. For people with certain lung conditions, dehydration can cause mucus to become thick and sticky. This can make people more sensitive to existing allergies and vulnerable to illness. Keeping your flat or house cool is important in warm or hot weather- closing curtains and using plug-in fans can help.

On hot days, you should continue to eat as usual, and drink plenty so that you do not become dehydrated. Stay out of the sun if you can and avoid going out during the hottest part of the day if possible. Take cool showers and baths to help to prevent your body from overheating. Light weight, loose fitting clothing may also help you to feel more comfortable. There is more about how to look after your lungs in hot weather on the ASTHMA + LUNG UK website.

How to stay well in cold weather

In cold weather it is important to keep your home, and yourself, warm. You should try to keep your home to at least 18°C throughout the day and night. You can also stay warm by wearing layers of clothing- it’s a good idea to have hot drinks throughout the day too, and at least one hot meal per day.

Avoid going out in very cold weather if you can. During the winter months, consider keeping a small stock of non-perishable foods (e.g. tins of soup, canned fruit) in your home so that you don’t need to go out for a few days if the weather is very bad. 

Wrap up well when you go outside, and make sure to keep your hands, feet and head warm by wearing gloves, thick socks and a hat, as well as a warm coat and scarf. You can help to warm the air you breathe in by loosely wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth. In the colder months, people often do less physical activity, so it is important to remain as physically active as you can. Follow any guidance you have been given by your GP, respiratory nurse or specialist respiratory team.

Make sure to check the weather before you go out in the cold, including temperature and humidity levels- if it is too cold, windy or humid outside, it could affect your breathing. When you do go out in cold weather, you should ensure to carry reliever medication with you, as cold weather can tighten your airways and make breathing more difficult. You can help to warm the air entering your lungs by breathing through your nose, instead of your mouth.
To help yourself stay well in the winter, make sure to keep up with your vaccinations including the pneumonia vaccination and the annual flu vaccination. Stay away from people with colds and other contagious illnesses, to lower the risk of you becoming ill with a virus. There is more about how to keep well in the cold on the ASTHMA + LUNG website.

How else can I help myself?

It is helpful to monitor air quality, as people with lung conditions can be more sensitive to airborne pollutants. These may be things such as dust particles or vehicle exhaust fumes, which can become more of a problem during certain weather conditions. Air pollution can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, causing coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and increased mucus. This can lead to symptoms worsening, e.g., an asthma attack or COPD flare-up. You can keep a check on the air pollution forecast for today and the coming days. Hay fever can affect some lung conditions and cause symptoms to be triggered- it is a good idea to know your pollen triggers. Asthma + Lung UK have more information and a viewable pollen calendar.

Keeping an eye on the weather forecast and/ or pollen forecast can help to avoid situations which may trigger symptoms. It is helpful to understand the things which might trigger your own symptoms, so that you can avoid these. E.g., Stay away from busy roads on high pollution days, avoid going outside in extreme heat and wrap up warm in cold weather. Take all medications as prescribed.