For some people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and chronic bronchitis, breathing cold, dry air can have a drying or irritating effect on the airway causing bronchospasm (contraction of the smooth muscle that surrounds the airway). Bronchospasm decreases the size of the airway, thus makes it more difficult to get the air in and out of the lungs, increasing shortness of breath. 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.
What to do?
Don’t think that just because it is cold outside you have to stay indoors. Living well with lung disease is important for our bodies so that means staying active. But do pay attention to 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.
• 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.
• 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.
• 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.