While gardening, Juanita Roberts used to jump into the pool when she got too hot.
Her husband would fuss at her, telling her she was going to overheat outside among her daylilies, irises and monkey grass.
For the most part, though, the 78-year-old Oklahoma City resident has given up gardening.
Oklahoma heat makes it difficult for Roberts, who has COPD and had open-heart surgery about two years ago.
“Being out there in the heat, I just can’t do it — I don’t do it,” Roberts said.
Roberts is one of thousands of Oklahomans who suffer from COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
COPD is a serious lung disease which makes it hard to breathe, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It’s also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.
And with Oklahoma’s weather patterns, COPD can prove even more difficult to deal with.
Many patients’ symptoms worsen with weather changes, such as fronts coming through, more humidity or impending rain or snow, according to the COPD Foundation. People with COPD sometimes have trouble during cold weather, which can cause shortness of breath.
And the heat also might be troublesome.
Indoors as well as outside
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently found that people with COPD could be affected by warm indoor and outdoor temperatures.
The researchers found that increases in indoor temperature were associated with increases in symptoms, rescue medication use and decreases in lung function, according to the American Thoracic Society. The study participants spent little time outdoors, but on the days when they did go outside, they suffered an increase of COPD symptoms as the temperature increased.
Dr. Jai Surana, a lung specialist at McAlester Regional Health Center, said people with COPD might suffer from fatigue or tiredness during temperature changes, which might result in their sleeping longer hours and thus not taking their medications. This can lead to further complications.
“COPD not only affects the respiratory system,” Surana said. “More and more research is showing that it affects, in the long run, pretty much every organ system. Most patients with COPD, because it’s a debilitating condition, are dependent on medications.”
Although Roberts cannot spend much time outdoors, she lives an active life and makes sure to exercise.
She takes her three dogs, Buddy, Jessica and Rusty, on frequent walks, and she participates in different support groups and exercise programs in Oklahoma City.
She does her best to take good care of herself since being diagnosed with COPD in 1992.
“At the time, I was smoking, and I was choking and coughing and having trouble breathing, so I went to Mercy to see one of the top doctors there, and he said I had emphysema, so at that time, I was so afraid, I stopped smoking,” Roberts said.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD, and secondhand smoke is associated with an increase in the risk of COPD in adults, according to the state Health Department. Female smokers are nearly 13 times more likely to die from COPD compared to females who have never smoked, the agency reports.
Roberts said quitting smoking wasn’t easy, but she was motivated, in part, by her fear. The coughing fits brought on by the cigarettes were scary.
“You just think maybe you’re going to strangle to death,” she said. “My face would turn red, and my eyes would water, and I couldn’t hardly get my breath.”
At the time, I was smoking, and I was choking and coughing and having trouble breathing, so I went to Mercy to see one of the top doctors there, and he said I had emphysema, so at that time, I was so afraid, I stopped smoking.”