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How Extreme Heat Affects Your Breathing and Lung Health

How Extreme Heat Affects Your Breathing and Lung Health

Summer arrives without much warning, giving us little time to adjust to the sudden change in temperatures, which can affect lung health. While the summer season energizes many individuals, it creates challenges for those with respiratory conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma.

The combination of extreme heat and high humidity during the summer can lead to asthma flare-ups and worsen other respiratory diseases. Many studies have confirmed the link between hot weather and respiratory difficulties.

Extreme Summer Heat and Respiratory Health

Your body is constantly working to keep its temperature within a normal range. When you find yourself in challenging weather conditions, like very hot and humid weather, your body needs to expend additional energy to regulate its temperature and cool down. This increased energy usage adds an extra load on your body, causing it to work more.

Your body needs additional oxygen to regulate its internal temperature during extreme heat or cold. The weather can impact lung function, leading to hyperpnea or rapid breathing.

Scientific research highlights the various effects of hot weather on breathing, including:

Throughout the summer, there is a rise in the pollen count in the air. Unfortunately, this increase often triggers respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, particularly in individuals with respiratory conditions like asthma, allergic rhinitis, or COPD.

Research published in the Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology Journal has established that hot air can lead to airway irritation and coughing in individuals with inflammatory upper airway diseases. The activation of thermal sensors in the larynx and upper airways is believed to be the underlying cause of this irritation.

According to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, inhaling hot air leads to airway inflammation, which can result in shortness of breath or bronchoconstriction.

Moreover, hot weather often leads to dehydration, causing dryness in the nasal passages, bronchial tubes, and lungs, which can result in shortness of breath. Studies indicate that hot air can hold more water vapor than cool air, leading to reduced oxygen levels and higher humidity. This can be particularly challenging for those with chronic lung issues.

In addition, during extremely high temperatures, the air tends to become stagnant, trapping pollutants and worsening respiratory symptoms.

Caring for Your Lungs during Extreme Summer Heat

By making simple adjustments to your daily routine, you can effectively care for your lungs.

  • Stay Indoors – Whenever possible, steer clear of hot outdoor air and keep your windows and doors shut to maintain a cooler indoor environment.
  • Check Weather Updates – Before stepping outside, check the temperature, humidity levels, and air quality index. If there are high pollen levels or other pollutants, consider wearing a mask to protect your lungs.
  • Plan Your Day – Avoid going outside during the hottest times of the day, typically between 11 AM and 3 PM. Plan your activities for early morning or evening when the temperature is cooler.
  • Quit Smoking – If you smoke, consider quitting to improve your lung function. Also, avoiding alcohol can help prevent dehydration.
  • Choose Appropriate Clothing – Choose loose and light-colored cotton clothing to stay comfortable during the summer.
  • Avoid Straining Yourself – Conserve energy and avoid strenuous exercises during hot weather to prevent dehydration.
  • Dietary Changes – Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and consuming foods with high water content, such as watermelons, musk melons, mangoes, and cucumbers.
  • Cool Your Body – Take frequent showers to cool down when feeling overheated. When outdoors, use a hat, scarf, shrug, or umbrella for protection from the sun.
  • Prepare for Health Emergencies – Keep emergency quick relief medications on hand if you experience breathing problems. It’s also good to know the location of a 24-hour emergency care facility nearby.

Summer’s extremely hot weather can impact everyone, with those having pre-existing lung conditions facing a higher risk of adverse health effects. While seeking assistance from your local ER is an option, families should take the initiative to protect themselves before heading out.

In case you or any family member experiences breathing difficulties due to the extreme summer heat, Physicians Premier, your Corpus Christi ER, offers 24-hour services and accepts walk-in patients. Keep this information readily available to handle any emergencies effectively.


“Tips to Save Yourself from Summer’s Deadly Heat Waves,” American Lung Association,
“Breathing hot humid air induces airway irritation and cough in patients with allergic rhinitis,” Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology,
“Bronchoconstriction Triggered by Breathing Hot Humid Air in Patients with Asthma,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine,
“How to protect your lungs on hot and humid days,” Breathe The Lung Association,