NEWS BRIEF: How turning up the heat may harm your health

As temperatures drop outside, thermostats go up. And that’s bad news for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to new research.

The study, conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins University, looked at 69 people with moderate to severe COPD and tried to determine how indoor temperature and air quality affects their disease.

We already know that heat waves are hard on the elderly, who are more likely to suffer COPD. This study built on this knowledge and investigated how people are affected on an individual level, including how in-home temperature influenced COPD symptoms specifically. And that’s especially relevant, because patients with COPD tend to spend the overwhelming majority of their time indoors.

Participants filled out daily questionnaires about their respiratory symptoms, took a daily lung function test, and made note of their use of rescue inhalers to manage their symptoms. At the same time, researchers were recording air pollutants in the participants’ homes, as well as outdoor air temperatures.

After analyzing all the data, the researchers found that higher indoor temperatures worsened respiratory symptoms and increased the use of rescue inhalers. And the effects of the higher indoor temperatures lasted for one to two days. In addition, effects were magnified when there was more indoor air pollution.

Here’s the takeaway: If you have COPD, you need to keep an eye on your indoor temperature. When it’s cold outside, don’t crank the heat too high. And a HEPA air filter that can filter out air pollutants might be a good idea too.


McCormack MC, Belli AJ, Waugh D, et al. Respiratory effects of indoor heat and the interaction with air pollution in COPD. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2016 Sep 29. [Epub ahead of print]