Living with asthma means you’re especially sensitive to changes in the air you breathe. There are lots of factors that can aggravate your lungs, like dust and pollution. It turns out, even the temperature and humidity of the air around you could affect how you feel.
Here’s how to pick the best temperature for your home and how to deal with situations where you have to be in freezing or scalding outside temps.
Temperature extremes can be a trigger for asthma. Doesn’t matter if it’s too hot or too cold. If it’s far enough from the happy medium, you might notice worsening symptoms.
Since asthma varies from person to person, it’s hard to pin any universal nope-zones on the thermostat. If you experience pretty mild asthma, minor temperature changes prob won’t be a big problem. However, if your asthma is more severe, closely monitoring your room temperature can be an important part of managing your condition.
A small 2012 study suggested that 68 to 71°F (20 to 21.6°C) is the safest temperature range for folks with asthma. That works out, because 68 to 72°F (20 to 22°C) is what’s literally considered “room temperature”.
Humidity seems to be less important, but it’s still worth considering. As a rule of thumb, air humidity levels above/below 30% to 50% could be an asthma trigger. Why else would humidity matter? High indoor humidity levels can lead to dust mites and mold. (Those are two big asthma triggers.)
How to keep your home asthma-friendly
Keeping your indoor rooms at these levels is made a lot easier with the right tools.
- Exhaust fan. This helps keep humidity low when you shower. If you don’t have one of these, try to open a window to get the air moving.
- Humidifier/Dehumidifier. If you live in a dry place, a humidifier makes sure your air isn’t too dry. If you live in a damp, humid place, then you need a dehumidifier. If humidity levels are a big asthma trigger for you, having both on hand can help you keep steady.
- Air conditioner. In the United States, most homes have air conditioning. Whether it’s an in-window unit or central air, this allows you to control the temperature of your home with the touch of a button.
Asthma’s all in the airways. It can be triggered both by extremes of temperature and sudden shifts in air temperature.
- Heat hurts. In hot environments, especially hot and humid ones, your airways constrict. You also tend to sweat and breathe more. This is the perfect storm for dehydration, a known asthma symptom trigger. Also, when it’s hot outside, pollen and pollution levels tend to go up. Those are A-tier asthma triggers.
- Cold is also a prob. Cold air is usually dry air. That can evaporate the natural mucus in your airways. Phlegm exists for a reason. Without it, your airways can get itchy, narrow, and irritated. A 2018 research review showed that can trigger asthma symptoms.
How much is too much? Some studies show that temp changes greater than 41°F (5°C) can cause probs for the respiratory systems of folk with asthma.
Indoor temperatures are controllable, but mother nature doesn’t have a thermostat. Here’s how to keep yourself safe.
When it’s hot
Stay indoors when the air quality stinks. Yes, even if you’ve spent enough time inside during the pandemic for a whole lifetime. If you check local levels of pollen/pollution and find them less-than-friendly, give yourself a 1-day staycation. Avoiding harsh outside environments is a possible way to swerve potential triggers.
Keep loose, light clothing. When it’s hot, you sweat, right? That can dehydrate you, and dehydration can trigger your asthma. Dress for the heat, which means loose, light, even moisture-wicking clothing.
When it’s cold
Wear a face mask or scarf. Turns out, masks aren’t just helpful for preventing the spread of a pandemic. Keeping your mouth and nose covered helps keep the air in your lungs humid and moist. That’s beneficial for asthma symptoms.
Prep for the cold. Just like the right clothes can help you in the heat, wearing cold-weather gear when it’s cold out is important. It keeps you warm, which can help reduce the likelihood of triggering your asthma.
Carry your rescue inhaler. This prob isn’t news to you, but it doesn’t hurt to reiterate. If you live with asthma, you should try to always carry your rescue inhaler with you. Just in case.
Stick to your treatment plan. Always try to follow your doctor’s plan for management of your asthma. Chances are, planning for temperature and humidity changes are something they’ve addressed.If your treatment plan doesn’t seem to mention air temperature or humidity, speak with your doctor for personalized advice.
Air temperature and weather extremes aren’t the only considerations you need to take. There are a few other asthma triggers lurking in the air you should be aware of.
- Air pollution. This is exacerbated by hot weather, but if you live in an urban environment, air pollution levels are likely always a concern. But there are plenty of apps that can give you a heads-up on the conditions. Most news stations mention air pollution levels as part of the weather report, too.
- Pollen. Like air pollution levels, pollen count is more of a concern in warm weather. It can also increase after thunderstorms too. Pollen is a known asthma trigger, so it can help to keep a daily check on this stat.
- Mold. Mold grows in damp and humid environments. An older 2002 study found that exposure to indoor mold isn’t good for adults with asthma. This confirmed what adults with asthma had been saying for years. To protect against mold spores, stay on top of your cleaning routine and keep humidity levels low with a dehumidifier.
- Dust mites. Many folks are allergic to dust mites. Like mold, dust mites love humidity. They also love bedding, carpets, curtains… pretty much any type of fabric. Regularly wash your bedding, vacuum, and use allergen-blocking bed covers to help keep them at bay.
Noticing that you’re wheezing, feeling short of breath, or chest tightness? If you haven’t been diagnosed with asthma but think you could be experiencing asthma, talk with your doctor about your symptoms.
When to call your doctor right away
Keep an eye out for any of these scenarios. Let your doctor know ASAP if you’re:
- using your inhaler more often, especially if this is sudden
- having worsening symptoms after taking medication
- persistently coughing, and it worsens over time
- feeling weak, dizzy, or fatigued
- having a hard time breathing after daily activities like cooking dinner or folding laundry
- developing a new wheezing
The optimum air temperature if you have asthma is 68 to 71°F (20 to 21.6°C), with humidity levels at 30% to 50%. Indoor air temperature can be controlled with a variety of tools like AC and extractor fans.
Weather extremes can worsen asthma symptoms, but there are things you can do to protect yourself. Talk with your doctor if you’re noticing new asthma symptoms, or if you’re not sure how to manage your existing symptoms. They can give you personalized advice to help manage your condition.