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COPD and Humidity

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on July 28, 2020

Weather that’s too humid or not humid enough can make it harder to breathe when you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease that gets worse over time. Changes in humidity and temperature can trigger a flare-up. Symptoms that may get worse include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and tightness in your chest.

Humidity and COPD

Humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air. It’s usually higher in the summer and lower in the winter. The baseline depends a lot on the climate where you live. Try to keep levels inside your house between 30% and 50%. You can measure it with a hygrometer, which is like a thermometer for humidity.

COPD and High Humidity

Humid air feels thick and dense. It makes your body work harder to breathe. You need more oxygen, and you may feel tired and short of breath. Humid air also helps grow mold and dust mites, which like a moist, warm environment. Both can cause allergies that trigger COPD symptoms.

Choosing a Dehumidifier

Home dehumidifiers are useful in damp parts of the house, such as basements. They can remove between 10 and 50 pints of water from the air each day. The water drips into a basin that you need to empty and clean with bleach to keep mold away. Choose a larger one for more flexibility -- you can always adjust it down.

Measure the humidity in your home to keep it at an ideal level and prevent overuse of the machine. Be sure to clean your humidifier often, or bacteria can grow in the tank, which can make you sick.

COPD and Low Humidity

On the other hand, low humidity causes the air to feel dry. Dry air irritates your throat and sinuses, and can help spread viruses such as the flu.

If the air in your house is dry, a humidifier adds moisture in the form of vapor or mist.

Choosing a Humidifier

Humidifiers are useful in winter when your heat is on and dries out the air. They’re good to have all year round in very dry climates. They come in many sizes, from a tabletop model that can handle one room, to a console that spreads moisture to larger areas. You can also have one built into your central heating system that humidifies the entire house. No matter which type you use, clean it often to keep mold and bacteria away. Follow the directions that come with the unit.

Tips for using your humidifier include:

  • Use distilled water.
  • Change the water as often as every day.
  • Unplug and clean the tank every 3 days with hydrogen peroxide or another disinfectant if the directions say so. Then rinse the tank.
  • Change filters at least as often as the directions say -- more often if they’re dirty.
  • Consider replacing old humidifiers, which can build up deposits that make them hard to keep clean.

Tips for Breathing Easier With COPD

You can’t change the weather, but you can take steps to help you breathe easier and prevent flare-ups when humidity is not ideal:

  • Consider a humidifier for your home or just your bedroom.
  • Consider a dehumidifier if you have a damp basement.
  • Stay inside with your windows closed, away from pollen and other things you may be allergic to.
  • Work with your doctor to get the right medications or inhalers to manage your allergies.
  • Stay active even when stuck inside to stay healthy and reduce shortness of breath.
  • Drink plenty of water to help control your body temperature. Keep hydrated no matter how wet or dry it is outside. Drink enough water so that your urine is clear to light yellow.
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: “5 Tips to Help You Breathe Easier in Hot Weather.”

NIH, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “COPD.”

Mayo Clinic: “Humidifiers: Air moisture eases skin, breathing symptoms.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Air Filters, Dehumidifiers, and Humidifiers.”

National Emphysema Foundation: “Managing COPD in the Summer.”

Lung Health Institute: “How Indoor Humidity Affects COPD.”

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