Whether you’re abroad or at home this summer it is recommended that those of us with respiratory-related illnesses should use caution as there is a strong link between rising temperatures and increased hospital admissions.
Older people have more difficulty adjusting to rising outdoor temperatures than younger people because as we age our body finds it harder and is less efficient at thermoregulation. This is the body’s ability to maintain your internal temperature within a healthy temperature range. Older people are also more likely to suffer from conditions such as heart failure, obesity, heart disease and obesity which heat can worsen, and take medication such as diuretics, beta blockers and antidepressants which can interfere with the body’s ability to cool off and perspire.
In a recent study there was shown a correlation between rising temperatures and the number of emergency admissions for people suffering with COPD and respiratory tract infections in the over 65 population. Even when air quality, pollution, pollen and ozone levels were taken into account, the heat exposure factor was still the most significant and even the following day after heat exposure the risk of hospitalisation was still extremely high.
The study suggested that the poor respiratory effects to heat exposure was likely due to the inhalation of hot air.
Inhaling hot air can exacerbate disorders like COPD as it can cause a bronchospasm which contracts he airways making it harder to breathe and this can happen just a few minutes are exposure. Breathing hot air may also aggravate existing respiratory infections which may also be initiated by pollen or mould.
Poor thermoregulation also plays a part as if you cant cool your body off it will result in hyperthermia which has symptoms such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke. It can cause a rapid heartbeat and increased blood flow to the skin for it to cool off, leaving vital organs deficient in blood flow and therefore oxygen.
The body will work harder as it tries to keep cool and therefore require additional oxygen supplies leading to rapid deep breathing (hyperpnea) and can lead to decreased lung function.
However it does seem that if you grew up in an area that experiences high summer temperatures then your body is used to acclimatising to these temperatures. It can thermoregulate fairly efficiently as your body’s ability to do this improves with repeated exposure. People who are not used to long-term heat can have a harder time adjusting and when we experience a heat-wave or go on holiday our bodies have difficulty adjusting and being able to regulate our body temperature and can impact our respiration ability.
The advice is to keep informed of heat, humidity and air quality whether at home or abroad and make sure you are prepared in case your symptoms worsen suddenly. Ensure you have enough medication, water to take it, oxygen equipment and a back-up concentrator and cannula in case of equipment failure. If travelling abroad a global oxygen supplier can arrange for additional equipment to be available for you, as it’s better to be safe than sorry.