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Ask A Geek: How to cope with extreme heat?

Prior to 2020, the Lung Health Foundation operated as the Ontario Lung Association. Enjoy this content from our archives.

Dear BreathingGeek,

It’s hot, and I’m a mess. Literally melting, okay? But I’m actually writing to say that concerned about my elderly neighbour during the extreme heat alerts. She’s got COPD and she’s on oxygen and has a hard time getting around. Any tips I can share with her, before I evaporate?

Burning up in Bowmanville

Dear BuiB,

I sincerely hope you aren’t literally melting. I catch your drift, though – summer’s reached Ontario, and with it comes the occasional too-hot-too-handle weather.

A man looks up from typing on his computer to see a burning flame a few feet away

Me right now (figuratively, at least)

Good on you for looking out for the wellbeing of your friend next door!  The tips I have for you today are for anyone who breathes, but they’re especially helpful for anyone living with a lung condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Extreme Heat Tips

  1. If you have an existing lung condition, keep taking your medications as prescribed. Keep your rescue inhaler (usually a blue puffer) close by, as you would if you knew you’d be encountering any other flare-up trigger.
  2. Find ways to stay cool.  It’s a given, but we suggested staying in air conditioned spaces if you can. Keep air moving by using fans throughout your home. Wear light coloured, loose clothing and a hat to keep you cool while protecting you from the hot sun while outdoors. Reach for meals that don’t require using the stove, like salads and sandwiches. Take a cool bath or shower. If you can travel, an air conditioned shopping mall or community centre is a good place to move your daily walk.
  3. Take it easy. It’s important to conserve your energy. If you have a lung condition like COPD, your body uses a tonne of energy just to breathe. When you add in the effects of the heat and the extra work your body has to do to maintain a normal temperature. you may feel a bit depleted.
  4. Stay hydrated. Leave a glass by the sink to remind you to sip frequently, or invest in a water bottle that sparks joy. Upping your intake of hydrating fruits and veg is another good way to prevent dehydration.
  5. Keep an eye on the AQHIThe Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) can help you to monitor outdoor air quality and adjust your outdoor activity accordingly. On those days when you know that smog levels will be high, you may decide to limit your time spent outdoors and exercise indoors. While smoggy days can happen year ’round, they are especially common in the summer when high temperatures can cause the air to become stagnant (not moving around).

Heat stroke is a medical emergency!

Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if you are caring for someone who has a high body temperature and is either unconscious, confused or has stopped sweating.

Luckily (unluckily?), summer goes by pretty fast here in Ontario. I have a feeling I’ll be answering reader questions about extreme cold soon enough…

Live long and prosper,


Have a question for our resident BreathingGeek? Email, or click here to access our Lung Health Info Line (phone or live chat), where you can speak directly to a Certified Respiratory Educator. It’s free and confidential.


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