Get Some Fresh Air
Last updated: October 2020
It’s a common enough statement here in the U.S.
Simply put, breathing in air that is almost-sealed shut, keep the cold away, home in the winter, is probably stale and may have been depleted of some of its oxygen. This is because it hasn’t been circulating - that is - fresh air in, stale air out.
Not a big deal, right? Open a window and “VOILA!”
But - what’s also troubling is that the levels of carbon dioxide, CO2, you breathe may rise because of a lack of ventilation. And “safe” levels of CO2 in the home are difficult to measure.1
Modern homes are built with a focus on “sealing” the home - preventing unwanted pollution and/or cold air from coming in and air-conditioned air from sneaking out.2
When architects started to make buildings more airtight with less outdoor air ventilation in order to improve energy efficiency, it was found the ventilation was inadequate to maintain the health and comfort of building occupants.
The amount of carbon dioxide in a home or office is usually related to how much fresh air is being brought into that building.
Dryness in the air
Dryness is also a factor with over-heated, indoor air.3
Some winter mornings, it feels as if there’s almost a layer of see-thru film across my eyes.
I mentioned this to my nurse practitioner, Lisa, one visit. She said that, most likely, it was a combination of using oxygen while sleeping and the drying effect the heat from radiators has on the eyes, especially if they aren’t getting regular fresh air during the night.4
I asked Lisa if I should sleep with a window open?
She said, “your wife may not appreciate the cold temperature that’s coming in with the fresh air!”
Lisa recommended a small humidifier. But even this can be tricky because high humidity had a deleterious effect on breathing for many of us.
I any event, Visine seems to do a good job at bringing the moisture back to my eyes. And it’s either that or my wife and I will have to sleep in our down jackets! (lol)
The summer and humidity
On the opposite side of the fresh air coin is the summer and the associated humidity.
I was having drinks with a buddy, Charlie, this past August (2018) and was explaining how, here in the NYC area, it was just absolutely brutal trying to breathe with COPD.
“Because of the heat and humidity, right?” Charlie asked.
“Yeah,” I confirmed.
“Well...you know why, right?” he asked me.
“I have kind of a vague idea,” I told him.
The effect of humidity on the lungs
He began by telling me about humidity. That breathing in humid air activates nerves in your lungs that narrow and tighten your airways.
He referred to humidity as water content (makes sense) and oxygen as partial pressure. (He’s an engineer. They think differently from me and you – lol.)
The amount of water content in the air has an incredible impact on the concentration of oxygen. As water content increases, it reduces the partial pressure in the air and, thus, our lungs are scrambling to find that oxygen.
But what we’re gulping is largely H20.
Pretty simple, right?
Heat on the lungs of a COPD patient
Charlie explained the effects of heat on the lungs of a COPD patient (like me).
“Extreme hot or cold conditions stress the entire body. In an effort to maintain constant body temperature (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit), you expend additional energy to warm or cool your body."
“This additional energy also increases the amount oxygen your body is using."
“Since you are using more oxygen, this may further deplete your blood oxygen levels and increase your sensation of shortness of breath."
Charlie is from my old neighborhood in Brooklyn and at this point, asked in Italian, “Capisce?” (understand?).
I told him I did.
I'm constantly checking the humidity
Don’t get me wrong. In the summer the first thing I do in the mornings since I was diagnosed, is to go to my weather app on my phone to check the humidity.
If it’s above 60%, I might as well write the day off or go see a quadruple feature in a movie theater with meat-locker air conditioning.
But I can’t. So, I will stay in our home, watching jealously as friends walk by, dabbing at foreheads to clear the sweat.
And if I can’t get to a theater, the DVD player will just have to do.
The summer of 2018 will go down for me personally as one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, summers on record for breathing.
Speaking of Italian, I just bought THE GODFATHER 1, 2 and 3 DVD’s which, collectively, will take about 6 hours to watch.
You never know what next summer will bring...
What stage was your COPD diagnosed as?