Beat the heat this summer

It’s safe to say that most of us look forward to the long hot days of summer. Particularly when summer seems to take its sweet time getting here. But if you’re someone who suffers from a respiratory condition like asthma or COPD, you probably don’t relish the heat quite so much, particularly when it’s combined with high levels of humidity and smog in the air.

There are other health problems that can be made worse by the heat and humidity, but asthma and COPD are the most prevalent. For context, it is estimated that 1.8 million Canadians suffer from COPD, and 2.4 million suffer from asthma. Both conditions can flare up during extreme heat and humidity, and the very old and very young are the most at risk for complications.

If you suffer from asthma or COPD, the following weather conditions could cause you problems:

There are a number of common sense steps you can take to avoid complications that could be caused by the hot weather this summer:

  1. If you’re planning outdoor activities, check your favourite weather channel or website first. If the temperature, humidity and/or air quality index are outside the safe range, you might want to stay indoors, shorten your outing, or push it to later in the day.
  2. Always have your rescue inhaler with you when you’re out in the heat, and make sure to keep it cool.
  3. Don’t exert yourself during the hotter parts of the day.
  4. Stay close to some place cool. Just in case the heat is worse than you think, make sure there’s a pool, body of water or air conditioned building close by.
  5. Drink lots of water.
  6. If the schedule is up to you, try to plan your outing for before 11 am. The hottest part of the day is usually between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  7. Even if you’re planning to stay indoors, make sure to keep your windows closed if the air quality outside is bad.

Heat and intense sunlight can have a detrimental effect on a number of other chronic conditions, including multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, heart disease, and a variety of skin conditions including rosacea. If you are on medication for a chronic condition and are concerned that the heat and humidity may exacerbate your symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before planning extended outdoor activities during the summer months.

Read: Only you can manage your chronic condition – 5 tips to make sure you take your meds

Regardless whether you have a chronic condition, it’s always a good idea to be mindful of the heat and humidity. Heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke are quite common, and although these conditions are more common in people who abuse alcohol and drugs, the elderly and the obese, they can also affect healthy people who push themselves too hard on a hot day.

Heat stroke is the most dangerous of the conditions listed above, and can be deadly if not treated. Symptoms include nausea, headache, confusion, disorientation, dizziness, rapid shallow breathing and loss of consciousness (fainting). If you or someone you know suffers from these symptoms while outside on a hot day, call 911. While you’re waiting for help to arrive, it’s critical that you take immediate steps to bring down your body temperature. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, simply going into an air conditioned environment may suffice. In other cases, a cool shower or ice packs may be called for.

In most cases, you can avoid serious health complications from the heat by simply playing it smart. Stay in the shade, wear lots of sunscreen and don’t overdo it with the physical activity on those really hot days. You’ve waited long enough for the summer. The last thing you want is to spend it in the hospital.