Will living somewhere else help manage your COPD?
By Jennifer Nelson
Deciding where to live can be a tough decision. But if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may want to think carefully about whether a change in location could improve your condition.
“There is a popular impression that dry and warmer climates may be better for patients with COPD and other breathing disorders. For instance, Arizona was often promoted for patients with various lung diseases including asthma and tuberculosis. However, there is no research confirming that notion,” said Dr. Loutfi S. Aboussouan, staff physician for the Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute and Neurological Institute.
It all depends on what worsens and improves each individual’s COPD. Doctors say the best places for COPD patients to live feature a specific set of conditions that make it easier to live with and treat COPD, including:
- A mild, temperate climate
- Low levels of pollen and other airborne allergens
- Low levels of air pollution
- Close to sea level
- Easy access to health care
For some, living by the sea is more enjoyable and they notice easier breathing. Higher elevations have less oxygen in the air, making it more difficult for COPD sufferers to breathe. For others, living in a dry climate such as Arizona makes their COPD more manageable. If someone has overlapping allergies triggered by mold or dust mites that bother in humid environments, a dryer climate may be beneficial.
“Not everyone is the same,“ said Dr. Gail Weinmann, deputy director of the Division of Lung Diseases at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. "Some people with COPD feel better with high humidity, and some people feel better with low humidity.”
If humidity is an issue for you, consider whether you want to live in a warm, dry climate (Arizona) or a warm, humid location (Florida).
Living in high-altitude locations such as Denver or Salt Lake, where the air is thinner, may make it harder for some COPD patients to breathe. Likewise, cities with high smog readings or high pollen counts may trigger a worsening of symptoms for some.
What about traffic smog? Researchers in Denmark found that long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution increases the chance of developing COPD and likely worsens it.
And an Australian study determined that poor air quality in general contributed to worsening COPD.
Not everyone can or wants to relocate, but if that’s an option make sure to follow the air quality alerts in the location you are considering. Gauge a year-round humidity average, pollen readings, traffic smog information and mold and dust potential.
Most people end up moving organically after vacationing or visiting relatives in a location that they like and notice a serious improvement in how they feel. But don’t be too hasty to judge based on one brief visit: Are you feeling better because you’re enjoying vacation or family and friends, or is it the location?
Do your homework about the city’s air quality and visit multiple times at different periods throughout the year to see if you feel better during all visits. Relocating to improve your COPD symptoms, while not necessary, can be a health dream for some, with due diligence.