Weather changes are one of the many factors that can trigger symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD. Some of these symptoms are shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing and mucus production. The third leading cause of death in American, COPD is the collective name for a group of conditions, including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airway disease.*
“Weather extremes are not good for people with COPD,” said Pulmonolgist and Critical Care Physician James Anthony, M.D. “Temperatures below freezing or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit tend to cause an increase in symptoms.” He explained the body is constantly working to keep its temperature at about 98.6 F. “When we’re exposed to extreme temperatures, extra energy is used to regulate our body temperature. To do this, the body needs more oxygen. Because patients with COPD already use so much energy to breathe, it is common for them to have a flare-up of symptoms as their body seeks to maintain its temperature.”
Dr. Anthony said there are ways people with COPD can go out in the cold weather and protect themselves. He suggests the following.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. * Cigarette smoke is very irritating to the airways, and when combined with exposure to cold air, symptoms of breathlessness increase. Cigarette smoking also causes COPD to progress at a faster rate.
Avoid Wood Smoke
People with lung problems are more susceptible to the noxious particles found in wood smoke. The smoke irritates the airways especially when combined with cold air.
Exercise is beneficial for people with COPD, but cold weather can make it uncomfortable or impossible. Exercise inside a gym or in your home.
Wear a scarf or something over your nose and mouth and breathe through your mouth. The covering and breathing through your mouth warms the air before it enters the lungs, which helps prevent the worsening of symptoms.
Use a Rescue Inhaler
Taking a preventive dose from a rescue inhaler before going outdoors in cold weather helps open up and relaxes the airways, making breathing easier.
*Source: American Lung Association