VA Maryland Health Care System Offers Tips for Breathing Easy in Summer

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Dr. Martin Garcia-Bunuel, deputy director of the Managed Care Clinical Center at the VA Maryland Health Care System, offers some tips for people with lung disease to breathe easier in summer.

Veterans who have been deployed to combat areas, particularly Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn, should be aware of new and concerning respiratory system problems.

Summer heat, spikes in pollution, fires, smoke and other events causing poor air quality makes breathing a challenge for people with compromised lungs, such as those suffering from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. Summer temperatures can increase the risk of hospitalizations for people with lung diseases, particularly those over age 75. During the hottest summer months, temperatures and poor air quality stress the body and people with lung diseases can become “air starved.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 1979 and 2003, more than 8,000 people died from heat than from hurricanes, lightening, floods, and earthquakes combined.

Dr. Martin Garcia-Bunuel, deputy director of the Managed Care Clinical Center at the VA Maryland Health Care System, offers some tips for people with lung disease to breathe easier in summer. “COPD sufferers have inflamed and irritated airways, and breathing hot air can worsen this, causing a bronchospasm, or the smooth airway muscles to contract, further decreasing the size of the airways, making it more difficult to get air into or out of the lungs, of course, making it harder to breathe. Shortness of breath is no joke for someone with lung disease and we at the VA Maryland Health Care System would like to inform people of what they can do to prevent being hospitalize,” said Garcia-Bunuel. According to Garcia-Bunuel, not all lung disease sufferers have been smokers. For some Veterans, environmental exposures to fires and chemicals have caused lung disease, and still other non-smokers with lung disease may not know how their lungs became damaged.

Tips for breathing easy in summer:

  •     Use the buddy system: During hot months, make sure to have friends or family members call at least twice per day to make sure you are okay. If you don’t have a phone, be sure to ask neighbors to stop by your home each day.
  •     Plan Activities: If possible, stay indoors. If you must go outside, do so early in the morning or after the sun sets. When driving, park in shady areas and choose places that are air conditioned. Use sun protectors in your car.
  •     Drink plenty of fluids: During hot months, increase fluid intake, regardless of activity level or thirst. Drinks such as water, fruit and vegetable juices are best. Avoid drinks with caffeine and alcohol.
  •     Keep Your Indoors Cool: If possible, stay indoors in an air-conditioned building. If you don’t have air conditioning, plan to go to places that do, such as libraries, a shopping mall, or a friend or family member’s house. Take cool showers or baths to lower body temperature and avoid activities that require extra energy. The local health department may operate or be able to recommend the nearest heat-relief shelters.
  •     Wear appropriate clothing: Choose light-weight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing. Avoid getting tanned or sunburned because it is more difficult for your body to cool itself if it’s sunburned. Wear sunscreen every day, whether you are planning to be in direct sunlight or not.
  •     Listen to the news: The local news will broadcast heat alert codes for your area. Those code alerts will tell you whether you must stay in due to poor air quality or high temperatures. If the code alert indicates too-high temps for breathing easy, ask a neighbor, friend or family member to run errands.
  •     Keep an adequate supply of medications on hand: In case of bad weather conditions, keep an emergency supply of oxygen, antibiotics and steroids to treat any exacerbations at home.

Special Note for Veterans:

Veterans who have been deployed to combat areas, particularly Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn, should be aware of new and concerning respiratory system problems, including unexplained coughing, shortness of breath, decreased exercise tolerance, or increasing incidents of recurrent respiratory infection. If they notice these symptoms, they should make sure to enroll in VA health care and see their doctors as soon as possible.

The VA Maryland Health Care System (VAMHCS) provides a broad spectrum of medical, surgical, rehabilitative, mental health and outpatient care to Veterans at two medical centers, one community living & rehabilitation center and five outpatient clinics located throughout the state. More than 52,000 Veterans from various generations receive care from the VAMHCS annually. Nationally recognized for its state-of-the-art technology and quality patient care, the VAMHCS is proud of its reputation as a leader in Veterans’ health care, research and education. It costs nothing for Veterans to enroll for health care with the VA Maryland Health Care System and it could be one of the more important things a Veteran can do. For information about VA health care eligibility and enrollment or how to apply for a VA medical care hardship to avoid future copayments for VA health care, interested Veterans are urged to call the Enrollment Center for the VA Maryland Health Care System, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7324 or visit http://www.maryland.va.gov

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Rosalia Scalia
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