Humidity and COPD: What to Know
Heat is a known COPD trigger. I discussed this in my post, “Preparing for Hotter Weather with COPD.” With heat often comes humidity and humidity may also trigger COPD. That said, here’s what to know about humidity and COPD.
Air, water, and heat
Warm air tends to hold more water. That’s a good way of looking at it. The hotter a molecule of air is, the more water it is capable of holding. This is why it’s more likely to be hot and humid as compared with cold and humid. During the dog days of summer, there tends to be plenty of hot and humid days.
Humidity can make the air feel sticky. It can make the air feel heavy and hard to inhale and it can even increase airway resistance. This can cause you to work harder to breathe. Add heat to this, and you have a double whammy of sorts.1
Dust mite danger
Humidity can trigger COPD by itself. Humidity also increases other airborne asthma and COPD triggers. For instance, dust mites love humidity. Dust mites are tiny spider-like critters. They look sort of like spiders, only uglier. They are microscopic, meaning they cannot be seen by the naked eye. They live among flecks of dust in your home, hence the name “dust mites.” Dust mites by themselves are harmless. But, their feces are easily aerosolized and inhaled.
If you have allergies, your immune system may recognize dust mite feces as harmful. This may trigger a series of chemical reactions. These reactions cause inflammation of your upper airways and your typical allergy symptoms. They may also irritate your lower airways and cause asthma attacks or COPD flare-ups.
Feeding and reproduction
Dust mites feast on tiny flecks of skin that shed from humans, so they tend to infest places once touched by human hands. Examples include bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpet. Other examples include old pictures, baseball cards, and crafts. This makes sense considering all of these things were once held by human hands.
Dust mites can populate under any conditions. However, they particularly love warm, humid environments, such as what may occur during the hottest days of summer. Studies show that dust mite populations increase most when the humidity in your home is greater than 50%.2
So, if you have COPD and you also have an allergy to dust mites, this is something that may trigger your COPD. It’s yet another good reason to monitor the humidity in your home.
The mold problem
Mold spores also love humidity. Mold is a fungus. They produce spores that produce more mold. These spores need moisture to reproduce more mold. So they tend to grow anywhere there is water, including warm, humid air. This is why they grow best in warm, humid basements. They also grow best on those kinds of summer days.
Mold spores are easily aerosolized and inhaled. For those of us with mold allergies, our immune systems recognize them as harmful. This may trigger a series of chemical reactions. These reactions cause inflammation of your upper airways and your typical allergy symptoms. They may also irritate your lower airways and cause asthma attacks or COPD flare-ups.
Once mold starts growing you can see it with the naked eye, but you cannot see mold spores. You may not even know they are present until you inhale them and they trigger a flare-up. Like dust mites, mold spores replicate best when the humidity is greater than 50%.3
How to beat the heat and humidity
You can beat the heat and humidity. Dehumidifiers can help reduce the humidity in your home. Air conditioning (A/C) units are even better. A/Cs cool the air, which in turn dehumidifies it. The best A/C units will have "CERTIFIED asthma & allergy friendly® filters.” These work to filter 98% of allergens. I’m sure this would work great for COPD too.4
The best A/C choice is via central heating and cooling systems. These work great for filtering allergens. They also allow you to keep all the doors and windows shut at all times, preventing allergens from getting into your house that way. They also decrease the humidity inside your home, making breathing much easier.4-5
How has your experience been navigating the healthcare system as someone with COPD?