Canadians wait all year for summer, which heralds nature hikes, bike rides outdoors, and warm nights on the patio. The season brings its own unique challenges, but we take measures to limit their impact--sunscreen prevents sunburns, citronella keeps bugs at bay, water keeps us hydrated. But what are we doing to arm our respiratory systems against low-quality summer air?
I hear it all the time from otherwise healthy patients, "am I crazy or is it just harder to breathe during the summertime?" If you're feeling it too, you're not imagining things--in fact, there are dozens of summer-specific environmental factors that contribute to common complaints like itchy, congested sinuses, shortness of breath, and a general dried-out feeling in the respiratory tract.
Think about it. We go from dry, air-conditioned indoor air to smoggy, pollutant-filled outdoor air. Add in long cottage drives on polluted highways, dust from high construction season, and the fact that this year's allergy season has been especially harsh and you've got the perfect cocktail of particulate matter, dust, and dryness for a very taxed respiratory system.
While there's not much you can do about cars on the highway or pollen in the air, here are some ways you can improve your breathing and in turn your overall health this summer:
1. Avoid intense physical activity during peak smog days. That means keeping an eye on the Air Quality Health Index and being mindful of avoiding long, intense bouts of outdoor, physical activity during those times. Consider keeping your exercise indoors during the hot afternoons when ground-level ozone is highest.
2. Irrigate your upper respiratory tract. Allergens, dust, bacteria and particulate matter are filtered naturally by the nose's cilia, the microscopic, hair-like cellular structures that line the nasal cavity. Flushing out the sinuses with a saline nasal irrigator will not only remove pollutants and allergens from the upper respiratory tract, but will also help restore the natural flow of the nasal system.
Beyond the traditional neti pot, there are now many products available to practice nasal irrigation, including the Naväge Nose Cleaner which combines comfort with modern convenience.
3. Place a bucket of water in air-conditioned rooms. Frizzy hair might signify humidity outdoors, but inside, air-conditioned air can wreak havoc on your respiratory system, drying out your nose, mouth and eyes. Place a bucket or bowl of water in the room with you, particularly where you sleep--evaporated water will add moisture to the air and mitigate that dried-out feeling.
4. Change your route to work. Walking or cycling alongside a slew of pollutant-emitting tailpipes is not only an unpleasant start to your day--it's a possible health hazard. Take side streets or walk through a park. Or if you're a cyclist who can't avoid biking alongside cars, you might want to consider a cycling mask designed to catch pollutants before you breathe them in.
5. Keep your respiratory health in check. Regular visits to your doctor are the best way to keep your respiratory health in peak form. Your doctor can rule out any possibility of deeper problems like asthma or acute lung problems. Breathing better is all about understanding how your own respiratory system reacts to elements around you. Feeling sluggish during smog days? Try to limit outside time. Notice that grass inflames your allergies? Leave the lawn mowing to someone else.
Dr. Howard Levine is the Medical Director, RhinoSystems, creator of the Naväge Nose Cleaner. For more information, visit www.navage.ca
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