A girl with two top buns lifts hand weights while watching an instructional workout video on her laptop. Snow falls on the window behind her.

Navigating Weather With Cystic Fibrosis

Just as each individual’s journey with cystic fibrosis (CF) can vary, so can their response to different environmental factors. Some may enjoy certain seasons or weather, while others may find them difficult to manage. There is no “typical” way to feel during different times of the year. However, there are some common themes that those with CF might encounter as the weather changes.

Warmer weather or summertime with cystic fibrosis

Interestingly, research in recent years has pointed toward warmer temperatures being associated with certain bacterial pathogens and decreased lung function. Although we typically fear cold and flu season in the winter, some experts have suggested that the summertime and warmer weather may bring along an increased risk of infection with pathogens like:1,2

  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Mucoid Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (also called MRSA)

Specifically, there is an increase in risk of infection with these pathogens in warmer environments. Additionally, research has suggested that lung function tends to decrease with warmer weather and climates as well.1,2

More information is needed to further understand the relationship between the heat and these factors. Some common tips for navigating warmer temperatures with CF include:

Drink lots of water

Staying hydrated is critical for those living with CF, and the summertime or warmer temperatures carry with them a greater chance of getting dehydrated. Carrying around a bottle of water with you and swapping caffeinated beverages and juices for water whenever possible can help keep your body well hydrated. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids after exercising in the summertime (and anytime).3,4

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Practice good hygiene and sickness prevention

As mentioned, even though the summertime is not peak cold and flu season, it’s still possible to get seriously ill during the warmer months when certain bacteria are thriving. Washing your hands thoroughly, staying away from those who are sick, and practicing other basic illness prevention techniques may help keep you as healthy as possible.5

Protect your medications

Some medications need to be stored at specific temperatures and shouldn’t be kept in a non-air-conditioned place or inside a hot car. Your healthcare provider or pharmacist should be able to let you know which, if any, of your medications need to be protected from the heat.6

Watch your salt

When we sweat in the heat or after exerting ourselves, we lose salt. However, those with CF lose even more salt than those without the condition. Low levels of salt in the body, called hyponatremia, can be a serious issue that requires medical attention. Signs of hyponatremia include muscle cramping, muscle weakness, nausea, vomiting, confusion, drowsiness, or restlessness. You may need to add more salt to your diet to help keep your levels as they should be. Your healthcare provider or a nutritionist may be able to help create the ideal summertime diet for you.7

Colder weather or wintertime with cystic fibrosis

It is less likely that cold temperatures exacerbate CF symptoms. If you experience more wheezing in the wintertime, it may be other conditions being impacted by colder weather. Regardless of how your CF responds to colder temperatures, there are some common tips for keeping yourself as healthy as possible during the winter months:1

Don’t neglect exercise

It’s understandable to want to avoid going outside and getting exercise when it’s cold outside, however, exercising is still important year-round. Online resources – like YouTube workout videos or phone apps for at-home exercise – can help you stay active without needing to leave the house.8

Have a back-up plan for medications and healthcare

Winter weather might make it challenging for you or a loved one to leave the house and pick up your prescriptions. It may also be hard to visit your doctor. Create a plan with your doctor for the winter months.

You may want to start a back-up supply of medications in case you run out and can’t get to the pharmacy. Your doctor may also recommend keeping certain medications on hand in case you notice you’re getting sick and can’t make it in to see them. If you travel far away to see them, they may also recommend a closer facility to visit in case of emergencies.

Remember hydration

Hydration is not only key in the summer, it’s also critical in the winter. Drinking hot chocolate and other winter beverages is nice every once in a while. But it’s always important to drink water as well. Even when we’re not hot and sweaty, our bodies still need water. And we may not realize it until we’re closer to being dehydrated.9

Keep practicing strategies to prevent illness

Colds, flus, and other viruses are prominent during the colder months, making it essential for individuals with CF to practice good sickness prevention behaviors. Just like for the summertime, washing hands thoroughly, staying away from those who are sick, and getting your yearly flu shot and other recommended immunizations may help reduce your chances of getting ill during the winter.10

CF symptoms can vary from person to person and throughout many different types of weather. How does the weather impact your CF? Are there any hot or cold weather tips that help you when seasons or temperatures change? Share in the comments below!

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