What Happens In The Lungs To Make Us Cough In Cold Temperatures Below 0 Oc
The issue with cold air is that it doesnt hold water very well, as it usually freezes water in the air below 0oC, making it heavy, i.e. causing ice and/or frost to build up on surfaces like grass, trees, cars, etc
On top of this, cold air dries out particles which are breathed into the lungs. The lungs work on a principle of humidity and water vapour, i.e. water around a particle is attracted to water molecules in the mucus on the airway walls of the lungs to help capture the particles and transport them out of the lungs to be coughed out or swallowed as a part of the clearance process to maintain lung hygiene.
The issues with cold air below 0oC cause 3 affects within the lungs.
1. Reduced Humidity level of the lungs As mentioned, the ideal humidity level in the lungs is 100%. With cold air of 0 oC or less entering the lungs, this has the potential to reduce the humidity level of the air in the lungs, resulting in dehydrating the mucus and drying out the skin of the airway walls . This in turn causes the airway walls to become dried out, causing redness, agitation and potentially leading to inflammation and excess mucus secretion. To better understand the effects, think of how the cold wind on the outside of our body dries out our skin as it blows across the skin. This draws out moisture and eventually causing redness if exposed too long.
How Do Weather Changes Affect Asthma
Weather of Arabia – Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that results from inflammation of the airways in the lungs, which leads to narrowing of the airways and their secretion of mucus, and thus difficulty breathing for the patient. Many asthma patients are affected by changing seasons and weather conditions. Asthma attacks and symptoms may intensify as a result of several weather factors, including:
- High or low temperatures.
- High level of humidity in the air.
- sudden weather fluctuations
- Rain and thunderstorms.
The impact of these weather factors on asthma is more evident when weather disturbances are at their most extreme, such as cold winters and very hot summer days.
Asthma and hot weather
Some patients with asthma notice that certain symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath increase during hot weather, and it is believed that the exacerbation of asthma symptoms in the summer is due to the narrowing of the airway as a result of inhaling hot air. Also, some allergens in patients, such as mold and pollen, may become more prevalent during the summer, which leads to stimulating asthma attacks.
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Focus On Breathing Through Your Nose
That way your airways will be filled with warm air, not cold air thats breathed through your mouth. If you find you cant resist mouth-breathing, or will be exerting yourself , bundle up by wearing a scarf or face or ski mask over your mouth. This will help ward off potential pollens and warm the air you are breathing in.
In Summary How Do I Handle Extreme Temperatures
The right balance in core body temperature of between 36 oC and 38 oC is essential for helping to balance the lung functionality. Once the temperature drops below or above these core temperatures, then it may result in coughing as the body tries to remove the irritants which are causing the airway walls to become dried out and agitated. Sadly, this is either the hot dry air, or the cold dry air which we are breathing, and it may result in consistent coughing.
The best way to handle this to breath through the nose and/or have a barrier like a clothing which can help hydrate and heat or cool the air before it enters the lungs.
Read Also: Where Does Asthma Occur In The Lungs
Weather Changes And Asthma
From high heat and humidity levels in the summer, to cold, dry air in the winter, the weather can have an impact on your asthma. Limiting your exposure to extreme weather will help keep your asthma symptoms under control.
While the weather can be unpredictable, you can stay prepared. Understand how and why specific weather conditions affect your asthma symptoms, and how to navigate the season while minimizing your flare-ups.
Did you know?
In the fall of 2016, strong thunderstorms in Australia reportedly caused a number of asthma attacks that resulted in over 8,000 emergency room visits in Melbourne.
How Humidity Affects Asthma
There are a few ways in which heat and humidity can affect breathing in people with asthma:3,4
- Hot, humid air is harder to breathe in. Moist air feels heavier and denser. Hot outdoor temperatures seem to magnify this effect.
- Humidity can activate sensory nerve fibers in the airways. These C-fibers are thought to narrow the airways and stimulate coughing.
- Hot, humid conditions provide the perfect breeding ground for asthma allergens. Dust mites, mold, and pollen are all common triggers for people with allergic asthma. Those allergens love hot, humid conditions.
- Heat and humidity raise ozone levels. Ozone is the culprit in air pollution. Humidity makes the air stagnant, trapping pollutants such as car exhaust, as well as pollen and mold spores.
In addition, extreme changes in temperature can be a trigger when you have asthma. Think about what a shock it can be when you walk out of a cold, air-conditioned building into suffocating outdoor heat.
Hot, humid indoor air can also make it harder to breathe.
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How Does Humidity Affect Our Body And Lungs
Humidity has the largest effect on higher temperatures, increasing the feels like temperatures between 4 oC to 24 oC or more as the air temperature increases above 27 oC and humidity reaches 100%. This is also called the heat index.
Humidity has 3 major effects on the body as follows
1. Regulating Core Body Temperature
High humidity reduces the ability for the body to reduce the core temperature by reducing the ability to release heat through the skin. If the temperature and humidity is causing the feels like temperature to be raised above 38 oC, it can result in dehydration as the body releases water to try and decrease temperature.
Low humidity causes the body to lose body heat by drawing water from the skin. This works at reducing the feels like temperature but only by a few degrees Celsius.
2. Humidity Levels and Temperature in the Lungs
Lower humidity levels below 30% cause a drying effect of the air inside of the lungs. This is caused if the bodys core temperature starts dropping below 36 oC, resulting in vasoconstriction in the airways to reduce heat loss. This effects the temperature in the lungs and results in drier mucus from heat loss of the body, along with the low humidity in the air in the lungs, resulting in slower mucus clearance and agitation to the airway walls causing a cough.
3. Increased Pathogens or particles in the lungs
1. John Blake, Mucus flows
Asthma In Hot And Humid Weather
Heat and humidity usually occur together. Humid air is harder to breathe in, and extreme heat can irritate the airways. Moreover, ground-level air pollution is worse during the warm months, combined with the fact that it is pollination season for many plants. Plus, high humidity allows dust mites and mold to thrive. Together, all of these factors make hot and humid weather the perfect time for asthma flare-ups.
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How The Body Handles Hot Temperatures
As a means of reducing the temperature of the body to maintain the optimal core temperature 37oC, the body performs the following:
1. The thyroid gland reduces hormones into the body to reduce heating in the body and releasing as much heat as possible by doing the following.
2. Decreasing heart rate,
3. Decreasing blood pressure,
4. Decreasing metabolism,
5. Increasing the size of the blood vessels in the skin to increase heat loss and water loss through sweating,
6. Increasing water loss from the kidneys to again increase heat loss from the water excretion
The issue is that as the temperature increase above 32 oC, the bodys ability to reduce and increase heat loss has reached its limits . This is where it becomes dangerous for the body and normal bodily functions start to fail.
Good Genes Are Nice But Joy Is Better
Its an old line: everyone complains about the weather but no one is doing anything about it.
But if youre a person with bad allergies or asthma, stormy weather can be more than an annoyance it can be a serious threat to your health. Thunderstorm asthma was first reported in the 1980s in England and Australia, and cases continue to crop up. Just after severe thunderstorms passed through Melbourne, Australia, in 2016, more than 9,000 people sought urgent medical care for asthma during one notable event. Medical facilities were overwhelmed and at least eight people died. Thats unusual, but if you do have asthma or seasonal allergies, as it turns out understanding this trigger can help you stay well.
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Whats The Connection Between Cold Weather And Asthma
When you have asthma, your airways swell up and become inflamed in response to certain triggers. Swollen airways are narrower and cant take in as much air. Thats why people with asthma often have trouble catching their breath.
Winter is an especially hard time for people with asthma. A Chinese study from 2014 found that hospital admissions for asthma increased during the winter months. And in the cold climate of the north of Finland, up to 82 percent of people with asthma experienced shortness of breath when they exercised in cold weather.
When you work out, your body needs more oxygen, so your breathing speeds up. Often, you breathe through your mouth to take in more air. While your nose has blood vessels that warm and humidify the air before it reaches your lungs, air that travels directly through your mouth remains cold and dry.
Exercising outdoors in cold weather delivers cold air rapidly to your airways. It also appears to increase your likelihood of having an asthma attack. What is it about the cold air that triggers asthma symptoms?
Cold air is hard on asthma symptoms for several reasons.
Why Does Humidity Affect Asthma
Humidity likely causes asthma symptoms because it triggers bronchoconstriction, which is a narrowing of the airways.
Bronchoconstriction may occur because hot, humid air activates C fibers, which are sensory nerve fibers in the airways. Stimulation of C fibers may narrow the airways and stimulate coughing, which makes it difficult to breathe.
High humidity levels create the perfect breeding ground for mold and dust mites, which often trigger asthma. Higher levels of humidity may also increase air pollution. For example, ozone, which is an air pollutant, rises when humidity levels increase.
Increased levels of humidity also often mean higher temperatures. The highest humidity levels usually occur during the summer months. The combination of heat and humidity can irritate the airways making breathing more difficult.
While it is not possible to control the weather and humidity levels outdoors, people can manage humidity-related asthma symptoms by:
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Tips For Maintaining Asthma Control During The Hot Summer Months
Planning ahead is the key to maintaining asthma control in the fact of hot, humid or hot, dry weather. Here are a few tips that can make a difference:
- Stay indoors as much as you can, where environmental conditions are more steady, especially if you have air conditioning. Try to limit outdoor times to early morning or after sunset, when temperatures are often more moderate.
- Watch the pollen and mold levels by checking local weather forecasts or using websites such as pollen.com. Stay indoors as much as you can when levels are high.
- Take your asthma and allergy medication as prescribed, including keeping your quick-relief inhaler on hand at all times.
- Drink plenty of cool water to keep yourself hydrated.
- Keep your Asthma Action Plan updated so you can respond to any slip in asthma control promptly.
With a little care and planning, you can prevent heat from becoming a significant factor when managing your asthma.
What About Winter Sports
Participating in winter sports can also be very challenging with asthma. When someone exercises they tend to breathe more deeply through their mouth instead of their nose. When your child breathes through their nose, the air gets warmed and moistened by their airways before reaching the lungs. Instead, when they breathe through their mouth, the air remains cold and dry, which can act as an asthma trigger.
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Cold Air And Asthma = Winter Asthma
Does cold weather affect asthma?Absolutely! Cold weather is a common asthma trigger. Wintertime can be a potentially dangerous time of year for many people with asthma.
To understand your triggers, picture your bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs, as branches on a tree. A person with asthma has a certain amount of inflammation in these airways all the time. Inflammation causes them to narrow and makes it harder for air to get to the lungs. This is why people with asthma have a harder time breathing even if theyre not having a flare-up.
Changes in weather and fluctuations in temperature are known to inflame airways and trigger asthma flares. For people with bronchial tubes that are already inflamed, the impact of cold weather on breathing can be significant.
Understanding Humidity And Asthma
In the simplest terms, humidity is the amount of water or moisture in the air. When the media talks about humidity levels, they’re referring to what is known as “relative humidity.”1 This is the percentage of water in the air, compared to the maximum amount of water the air can actually hold at the current temperature. Hot air can hold more moisture than cold air. So, a relative humidity level of 70% on a hot day is going to feel a lot “wetter” than the same humidity level on a cold day.
According to the National Weather Service, humidity during hot summer months of less than 55 percent is “comfortable.” Fifty-five to 65 percent humidity begins to feel “sticky,” and anything over 65% is “oppressive.”2 You can expect that humidity becomes an irritant type trigger for many asthmatics at levels of 65% and higher.
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Humid Air Is Heavy And Harder To Breathe In
Have you ever felt that it is harder to breathe when atmospheric conditions are hot and humid? A study published a few years ago found that humid air actually increases airway inflammation and causes airways to narrow.4
Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT, here at Asthma.net states:
“If youve ever exercised on a hot, summer day you know that it seems harder to breathe. Add some humidity to the scenario, and breathing is even more difficult. These very same conditions seem to create much more difficulty for those with asthma. It is not entirely clear as to why the heat and humidity affect asthmatics the way they do. Quite simply, hot, humid air is heavier than normal air and so, is more difficult to breathe. These conditions create a chain reaction of events that can raise the body temperature, increase sweating and possibly dehydration, and cause you to breathe at a faster rate. When a person with asthma is having difficulty breathing , these conditions can easily exacerbate asthma symptoms, even without actually causing them.”
Besides the effect that breathing warm air, especially warm, humid air can have on your ability to breathe, there are other factors to consider. Hot, moist air creates the perfect breeding ground for mold growth and dispersal of mold spores into the air. It’s also a great environment for dust mite growth. These are two of the main allergens for people who have allergic asthma.
The Impact Of Hot Weather On Asthma
There are a number of reasons why people like you and me, people with asthma, don’t love summer heat. Everyone’s asthma is different, and whether you have an allergic type of asthma vs. non-allergic, can also have an effect.
Some people are more affected by hot, humid air, while others feel the impact more from hot, dry air. Or, it could just be the extreme changes in environmental conditions that make the biggest effect. 1 For example, moving from a hot, humid day outside into a cool, air-conditioned building. Some people might welcome the relief, while asthmatics might experience an asthma attack as a result of the radical difference in air temperature.
It’s not that heat triggers any different asthma symptoms. It’s just that it can make what you’re already dealing with even worse. The question is, why does heat affect some of us in this way?