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Summer can bring challenges for anyone, but people living with a lung condition are more likely to be affected by environmental changes that come when we enter the warmer months. As temperatures rise in Australia, it can result in very hot and dry conditions, or very hot and humid conditions, and this can result in you experiencing a flare up in your symptoms, such as coughing, increased shortness of breath, a runny nose, irritable eyes, or a sore throat.
If you are affected by the hot weather, below are some suggestions to help keep yourself well.
Tips for managing hot weather
Drinking enough water is essential, however it is important to discuss with your doctor the appropriate amount for your condition as some people may be on fluid restrictions. Avoid drinks that increase dehydration, including alcohol, tea and coffee. Eat smaller, cooler meals including foods high in water content such as fruits and salads.
Keep out of the sun
Remember to stay safe in the sun. Limit your direct exposure to the sun, and monitor local UV levels. Aim to do activities such as gardening, exercise and housework in the cooler parts of the day. Wear clothing that covers your skin as much as possible, , a wide brimmed hat, sunscreen (SPF 30+) and sunglasses.
Avoid the heat
Tips to remain cool and avoid the heat include:
- Fill a large sock with rice or place a wet hand towel in a zip lock bag and freeze. You can then place it on or beside you to keep cool. If you are placing directly onto your skin, wrap the sock in a cloth to prevent cold burn.
- Keep a battery-operated hand–held fan available. Many people find using a battery-operated fan can help control breathlessness, and research has shown that a cool draft of air from a hand-held fan can be very effective. Lung Foundation Australia has these available for purchase via our website.
- Take a cool shower and if possible, put a fan in the bathroom to help remove the humidity.
- If you have access to a pool, go for a swim (if this is a safe option for your condition).
- Keep your house cool by using fans, air-conditioning, blinds or curtains during the day.
- Go to your local library or shopping centre to stay out of the hottest part of the day.
- Contact your electricity provider to ask if they can offer you an electricity subsidy for running your air-conditioner.
Avoid the smoke and haze from fires
Where possible, people living with a lung condition in areas affected by bush fires and smoke should stay indoors, particularly when smoke is thick. Keep windows and doors closed and use air conditioning on recycle mode.
Have a plan. Watch weather forecasts and know who to call if you need help. When you are going out for the day, ensure you take your medications, a hand-held fan and plenty of water. Talk with your treating healthcare team about how you can live well through the hotter months.
- Exercise safely
Winter can be a challenging time for people living with a lung condition as temperatures drop and the air becomes cold and dry. Cold weather can trigger a flare-up of your symptoms and make you more vulnerable to illnesses, particularly when there are more viruses and bugs.
Below are some tips on looking after your lungs over the colder months:
Tips for managing cold weather
Know the signs of an exacerbation (flare-up)
Symptoms of a flare-up include:
- Coughing more than usual
- Finding it more difficult to breathe
- More mucus than usual, including any color changes
- Coughing up blood
- Feeling more tired and less active than you normally do
- Increased temperature (38 degrees or higher).
Contracting the common cold or influenza (the flu) can put you at risk of a flare-up and put you in hospital, and each flare-up does further damage to the lungs.
If you have COPD or bronchiectasis, make sure you have your Action Plan prepared which will tell you what you need to do in the event of a flare-up. This may include taking extra medications, or visiting your doctor to review your symptoms.
If you don’t have an action plan, download a template and organise an appointment with your doctor to work through it:
Avoid catching colds and flu
Colds and flu spread very easily and it is very easy for children and grandchildren, especially those of school age, to pass their infections on, so it is best to avoid contact with them if they are sick. This can be hard, especially if you are asked to look after children when they are off school because they are unwell, but it’s important to look after your own health.
Don’t forget to tell your friends that if they have a cold or flu, visiting you is a particularly bad idea – no matter how nice your friends are.
Here are some other tips to reduce the risk of catching and spreading infections:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and encourage other people around you to do the same.
- Cough into your elbow or the crook of your arm to reduce the spread of germs.
- Throw away used tissues as soon as you can.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser gel if you’re out and about.
Make sure you get your annual influenza vaccination and talk to your doctor about whether you should get a pneumonia vaccination.
Keep your home warm, but ensure you use a heater that is safe, particularly if you are using home oxygen. Avoid wood-burning heaters as they are a significant health hazard.
Try to stay as active as you can. Get up, move around and try to do some exercise as you will feel better for it. When you’re indoors, try not to sit still for more than an hour or so. Lung Foundation Australia has some great tips for keeping active at home including our Maintaining Movement video series.
Going out and about
- Check the weather before you go out. If it’s too cold or breezy for you or you are not feeling well, stay indoors and keep warm.
- Some people may find it useful to use a reliever inhaler half an hour before going outside if cold weather triggers restricted breathing for you.
- Try to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth as this will help warm the air you breathe in.
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