Why Asthma Can Be Worse During the Summer

Two women on bicycles, one of whom is using an asthma inhalerShare on Pinterest
Inhalers are one way to reduce the effects of asthma symptoms. Getty Images
  • Asthma can make it hard to breathe and anyone can have it.
  • Many factors come together in the summertime to make asthma worse.
  • There are a few steps you can take to keep your asthma under control.

Summertime is officially here.

This can mean outdoor sports, backyard barbeques, and family vacations.

However, for many people, summer also means more symptoms of asthma.

So, what exactly is asthma and why is it sometimes worse during the summer?

“By definition, asthma is a reversible airway obstruction,” Dr. Zab Mosenifar, FCCP, FACP, the medical director of the Women’s Guild Lung Institute at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles, told Healthline.

Experts say if you have asthma, triggers from the environment can make it difficult to breathe. Anyone can have it, but some people may be at higher risk.

“Asthma is more common in people who live in congested environments because they have a higher exposure to pollutants. Also, asthma mortality is higher for different socioeconomic groups for very complicated reasons of social issues, lack of proper healthcare, lack of access to medical care, and so on,” Mosenifar said.

“Typical symptoms of asthma include intermittent cough, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath,” Dr. Jimmy Johannes, a pulmonologist and critical care medicine specialist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in California, told Healthline. “Many things can look like asthma so an evaluation by a physician is often important to confirm the diagnosis.”

And if you don’t have asthma now, that doesn’t mean you’re immune from developing it later.

“Asthma can often spontaneously resolve over time. Asthma can also spontaneously develop later in life,” Johannes said.

What makes asthma symptoms worse?

People with asthma can have more sensitive airways.

“And when you have sensitive airways any kind of pollutants, or any kind of drastic change in temperature — either on the high side or the low side — creates a reaction in the airways. That’s what causes symptoms,” said Mosenifar.

“Environmental triggers play a big role. In the summertime, the temperature rises and there are more pollutants and fume particles in the air,” he added.

Johannes agreed that summer can bring with it a variety of triggers that could make asthma symptoms more prominent.

“Often pollen counts are higher in the summer, which for some people can lead to worse asthma and allergy symptoms. Further, higher humidity and heat can by themselves make it feel harder to breathe,” he said. “The sun interacts with industrial and vehicle emissions to make ground-level ozone, [which] in the summer months can contribute to worse asthma.”

What can you do about summer asthma symptoms?

If environmental factors play such an important role in asthma, one thing you can do to minimize your symptoms is to be aware of your environment.

“My recommendation normally is to try and stay indoors. Asthmatics do best if the temperature is 68 to 71 degrees [Farenheit]. I recommend that people go exercising indoors, or late in the day if they have to go out. Stay away from pollens, particularly between April and July, in some parts of the country,” said Mosenifar.

Experts note that during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people stayed indoors and this resulted in fewer asthma-related hospital visits.

“During COVID-19 there were less asthma exacerbations because a lot of people stayed indoors. There was less traffic and less air pollution. Mask wearing — particularly N95 masks — also helps out in terms of exposure to pollutants,” said Mosenifar.

“It’s not very easy for people with asthma to walk around with a mask and I understand that, but if you have to go out, I would highly recommend a mask,” he added.

Smoking, while not limited to summertime, can also cause major aggravation in asthma symptoms. Combined with high temperatures, pollen, and pollution, smoking and secondhand smoke put added strain on your body that could cause asthma attacks.

“In the U.S., smoking rates are the same in [people with asthma] and [people without asthma]. Smoking is really bad for everyone, but particularly if you have asthma. This is something people really need to take seriously. People with asthma should stay away from smoking, and from smokers,” said Mosenifar.

Treatments for asthma symptoms

Despite the symptoms, asthma is usually treatable.

Many people with asthma have two inhalers. The primary inhaler is for maintenance and the second is a rescue inhaler. They contain different medicines.

It’s important not to use the rescue inhaler for maintenance. Overuse of the rescue inhaler can lead to tachycardia, and you will likely stop responding to the rescue drugs as well.

Sometimes, even with the use of medication, you may need medical assistance.

“Symptoms of worse shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness which does not completely resolve with or recurs soon after a rescue inhaler treatment are quite concerning. These typically warrant immediate medical attention,” Johannes said.

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