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Extreme heat may trigger asthma symptoms

When the thermometer creeps up and the humidity outside is so thick you can feel it, it can be hard to breathe easy. Heat-related breathing problems can affect anyone, but they are especially troublesome for people as they age and for those who have chronic conditions such as asthma. If you fall into either of these categories, it’s important to take the necessary steps to protect your health during the summer and when you travel somewhere tropical on vacation.

The energy required of your body to maintain its normal temperature becomes increasingly strained during the summer months as the heat and humidity rise. The additional stress on your lungs is even more challenging for someone who has asthma, which can cause difficulty when breathing.

Asthma gets worse in the heat and humidity
If you have asthma, breathing hot air during the summer may trigger your symptoms. There are many reasons why this can happen, including increased air pollution from smog and higher pollen counts which are common irritants to the lungs. As the body tries to cool itself, it uses up more oxygen which makes the lungs work harder.

“Hot air may also irritate your airway and lead to a bronchospasm, one of the hallmark symptoms of asthma,” said Geisinger allergist and immunologist Yoon Kim, D.O. “This will cause you to feel short of breath and tightness in your chest, and may make you cough or wheeze.”

Ozone is a type of gas that is present in the air. It forms when pollutants from sources such as cars and factories react chemically with sunlight.

“Ozone irritates the lungs and can trigger asthma attacks,” said Dr. Kim. “When levels of pollutants like ozone increase in the summer, we see a corresponding increase in hospitalizations for asthma.”

How to beat the heat and keep your lungs healthy
Follow these tips this summer to breathe a little easier:

  • Give your body time to adjust: If you live in an area where it is warm year-round, your body will be used to the heat. Otherwise, give your body time to adjust to the heat by gradually increasing your exposure.
  • Exercise in a climate-controlled environment: Exercise is important, but exercising in the heat is very hard on your body — especially your lungs. If possible, workout indoors in the air conditioning when the summer heat is at its peak.
  • Avoid your triggers: When the heat is high, it is important to avoid other triggers that may make it hard to breathe – especially if you have asthma or another lung condition. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, allergens and pollution whenever possible.
  • Take your medications: If you take medications for asthma, try not to miss a dose during the summer. Also, don’t forget your rescue inhaler the next time you head outdoors.
  • Talk to your doctor: Now is a good time to schedule an appointment with your doctor for a checkup and advice on how to keep your lungs healthy during the summer, especially if you have asthma or another lung condition.

“Have fun this summer, but remember to take a few extra precautions to protect your lungs if you have asthma or another breathing problem,” said Dr. Kim.

Geisinger allergist and immunologist Yoon Kim, DO, sees patients at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant in Scranton. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Kim, call 570-718-4140 or visit



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