Climate and PH

From time to time, you might experience weather-related conditions that make you feel uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s difficult to even notice – you may be too busy with something to notice small but important changes.

Temperature, altitude and humidity can all have a big impact on your health. Learn here how to prepare for and detect adverse conditions.

  • High Altitude and PH
  • Warm Weather and PH
  • Cold Weather and PH

High Altitude and PH

Whether in an airplane or on the ground, the effects of high altitude are significant for PH patients. The lower pressure in the atmosphere results in a lower level of oxygen in the blood. In both healthy people and people with PH, blood vessels in the lungs constrict at high altitude, which can cause an increase in pulmonary pressures. This can result in worsening symptoms and decreased exercise capacity in PH patients.

Research indicates that some people may have a genetic tendency to respond abnormally to low oxygen (hypoxic) environments, which can magnify these effects even more. Those on supplemental oxygen need to be particularly aware that the body’s need for oxygen increases at higher altitude.

Low humidity also plays a role in the worsening of PH symptoms. Very dry air can irritate the lungs and cause you to feel worse than usual.

Before vacationing or moving to a high-altitude location, discuss the impact of altitude with your PH specialist. If you’re thinking about moving to such a location, your doctor may suggest a trial period of residence at the higher altitude.

Read our traveling with PH section to learn how to prepare for the high-altitude environment in an airplane (or at your final destination).

Warm Weather and PH

It is important to pay close attention to your body’s reaction to warm weather, especially while enjoying the outdoors. Prolonged exposure to heat and sun can quickly cause worsening symptoms of PH. Getting too hot can cause things such as heat exhaustion, heatstroke and dehydration.

Here are a few tips to help keep cool in the summer months:

  • Stay hydrated in the heat, but be cautious. Remain within any fluid restrictions ordered by your PH specialist unless instructed to do otherwise. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, including non-herbal tea.
  • Wear light, loose-fitting clothing. A wide-brimmed hat allows you to take the shade with you.
  • Stay in an air-conditioned environment. A fan can be substituted, but heat-related illness cannot be avoided by using only a fan when the temperature is over 90 degrees. If you don’t have air conditioning at home, consider visiting a temperature-controlled public place such as a mall or library.
  • Do not over-extend yourself. Try to avoid physical work during the hottest part of the day. You can rest and stay cool by lying down with a cold towel over your face, or by taking a cool bath or shower.
  • Wear sunblock. This is very important if you’re expecting to spend any significant amount of time outdoors, even in a car. Use broadspectrum, water-resistant sunblock of a minimum SPF 15. Apply liberally and re-apply every two hours after swimming or sweating.

Warm Weather Medication and Dressing Information

  • Do not leave medications such as Flolan® (epoprostenol), Remodulin® (treprostinil) or Ventavis® (iloprost) in the car – heat will break down these medications.
  • Epoprostenol users should keep plenty of ice packs on hand.
  • You will need to change your dressings more often if you tend to sweat. Keep your catheter site and dressing clean and dry.
  • Diuretics can affect your fluid balance and may accelerate dehydration in the heat. Contact your PH specialist if you have been sweating excessively, have had excessive weight loss or are experiencing low blood pressure and/or new or worsening lightheadedness or dizziness.

Cold Weather and PH

Just as with warm weather, the winter months bring with them special considerations for PH patients. With cold and flu season gearing up at the same time, you’ll need to pay extra attention to maintaining good health.

Whether you decide to stay indoors or venture outside, here are a few tips to follow:

  • While indoors, you can avoid many of the effects of cold weather, but remember that the dry indoor air may irritate your lungs. Also, cold and flu season can affect you anywhere and at any time.

Read our Helpful Hints on staying healthy during cold and flu season

Read what to do if you think you may be getting a cold

  • If you do go outside, try to limit your time and keep optional excursions to a minimum. Cold air can take your breath away; always wear a mask or a long, warm scarf to protect your face and warm the air around your mouth.
  • Check the air quality report for the day and plan accordingly – pollution can affect your health considerably.
  • Prevent hypothermia and chills by wearing multiple layers and a warm hat.
  • Use heat packs inside of mittens to keep your hands warm.
  • Use a cane to keep steady, especially in slick conditions. Try to avoid icy or slippery situations if at all possible.
  • Oxygen users should keep an extra cannula with them.
  • When returning indoors, have your home ready for comfort. Keep your slippers, comfortable and warm clothes and even a warm drink in a thermos by the door for when you return.
  • If exercise is cleared by your PH specialist, you can walk on a treadmill indoors if it’s too cold to exercise outside.
  • Avoid strenuous activity such as shoveling snow. Ask neighbors or friends to help clear your walks.
  • If driving in cold weather, store extra blankets, warm clothing, food and water in your car; always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll return; and keep a charged cell phone on you at all times.

Additional Resources

(Please visit the links below for more information)

Ask a PH Specialist: How Does High Altitude Affect PH? (PDF)

Robert Schilz, DO, PhD gives an overview of the effects of altitude on PH patients in this Spring 2008 Pathlight article.

Winter Cold Weather Tips (PDF)

Advice from PH patients on dealing with cold weather indoors, outdoors and on the road; includes information on what to take into account when conducting a winter support group meeting.

Helpful Hints: Summer PHun Tips (PDF)

Melisa Wilson, NP shares advice on staying safe in warm weather in this Summer 2009 Pathlight piece.

Helpful Hints: Taking Care in the Heat (PDF)

Additional tips for staying safe and comfortable in warm weather, from our Summer 2007 edition of Pathlight.