If you grew up in the southernmost states of the US, you’ve probably heard the old cliche (most likely uttered by a very warm lady while fanning herself on her front porch): It’s not the heat I can’t handle…it’s this humidity! Of course, humidity isn’t a strictly southern dilemma: anywhere that experiences especially wet seasons or unexpected flooding can also be blanketed by a round of humidity. And it’s usually true that wet heat is regarded as being much less tolerable for a person than dry heat. However, in addition to frizzed hair and sticky skin, humidity can actually be a much more ominous presence for those who have severe allergies, asthma or other respiratory issues.
When there’s an increase in humidity, that humidity can then trigger asthma. And if coupled with the added factor of heat, then all of a sudden you have an environment that serves as a breeding ground for allergens like dust mites and mold, which love humidity.
As reported by EverydayHealth.com, “a study published in the journal Asthma looked at hot temperatures and asthma exacerbations and found that when the temperature is about 86 degrees, pediatric hospital visits for asthma symptoms increase in proportion with the amount of elemental carbon (a pollutant) in the air.” The article goes on to note that the heat and humidity of summer can be compounded by seasonal irritants like smoke from forest fires.
Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic, told EverydayHealth.com that “…in people with asthma, the airways become hyper-reactive to allergens such as pollen and irritants such as perfumes.”
Dr. Fineman also tells EverydayHealth.com that humidity, temperature changes, and other weather conditions can also can also irritate a person’s airways. “Temperature changes in the airways can cause inflammation in the airways as well,” said Fineman. “…The nose controls humidity without difficulty. But for people with allergies and asthma, who may breathe air through the mouth more often, irritants, pollutants, and pollen are more of a factor.” Since asthma sufferers have inflamed airways, the more likely the weather is to affect them based on the sensitivity and severity of their asthma.
Even worse, heat increases the effects of pollutants like ozone and nitrogen oxide, among others. Dr. Andrej Petrov, an allergist-immunologist affiliated with University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette that “…heat increases metabolism and body temperature, which makes the body use more energy and require more oxygen. For anyone with respiratory problems, the need for more oxygen poses problems. Meanwhile,” he said, “humidity makes it more difficult to lower one’s core body temperature, which keeps the body working longer and harder, again increasing the need for oxygen.”
For people who find the changes in weather to be a problem, there’s the idea that sanctuary can be found indoors; however, depending on their indoor air quality, a home may or may not be the ideal respite. Allergens like dust mites and mold can easily find their way indoors, or even be produced and cultivated indoors, helped along by outside weather conditions. An indoor environment can almost be the perfect storm when it comes to incubating allergens and pollutants, which is not good news for allergy and asthma sufferers.
Unfortunately, there’s not much humans can do (individually anyway) to tame the weather outdoors. But the good news is, there are steps you can take to improve indoor air quality.
First, you want to evaluate your home and seek out what might be contributing to poor indoor air quality. Water leaks are a big one, as they can be a huge contributor of growing mold and mildew. Poorly-sealed windows or doors can allow outdoor pollutants inside as well.
If your pet is indoor/outdoor, they might be tracking in some of the very allergens that set off allergy and asthma symptoms. Designate a few spaces — particularly those where you sleep — as fur-free zones. This can help stop the spread of allergens and irritants.
If you do own a pet, it’s a good idea to invest in a powerful vacuum cleaner, and use it often! Choose one with a double-sealed HEPA filter to help prevent the allergens you just removed from your surfaces from escaping through the machine and blowing back out into your indoor environment.
Removing as many irritants from your surfaces is important when it comes to improving your indoor air quality. You can also remove pollutants from the air itself, when you invest in a quality air purifier with proven technology. Choose a purifier that contains a filter capable of capturing at least 99.97% of the tiniest particles (as small as 0.1 microns)…including pollen, smoke, dust mites, mold spores and pet dander.