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Cold Weather and Your Lungs

If you have lung disease, you may wonder why you feel more breathless when the thermometer drops.

For some people with chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease(COPD) and asthma, breathing cold, dry air can cause constriction of the airways.  The airways are the hollow tubes that connect the mouth and nose to the alveoli. Alveoli are thin walled balloon-like structures where gas exchange occurs. The constriction of the airways may reduce the flow of air into and out of your lungs, which adds to the feeling of breathlessness and may even cause wheezing. This can be frightening and sometimes even dangerous.

What to do? Well, you certainly don’t want to have to stay in the house. Living well with lung disease is important for our bodies and our psyche, and that includes getting outside. But do pay attention to severe weather and wind chill alerts. There are certain times you should stay inside and extreme weather would be one of those times.

Here are some tips for coping with the cold and its effects on your lungs. 

  • Wear a soft scarf over your nose and mouth.
  • Breath through your nose as this filters, warms  and humidifies the air before it enters your lungs.
  • Exercise indoors. We know that exercise is so important for people with lung disease so even though the temperature drops you still need to remain active. Exercise in your home or go to the mall and walk. Most malls open early for just this purpose.
  • Use your bronchodilator, your rescue inhaler, 30 minutes before you go outside. The inhaler will open and relax the airways making it easier to breathe. Also carry it with you when you go out into the cold.
  • If it is very cold and dry a home humidifier may help but be sure you clean it properly.
  • Avoid wood burning stoves and fireplaces as the smoke from these can irritate your airways and combined with the cold cause worsening breathlessness.

Be prepared for the cold weather and you may just find it can still be enjoyable!