You probably already know that changes in the weather, as well as extreme temperatures can contribute to a COPD flare up. This is a generalization, as some people are more affected by wet weather, very humid or scorching weather, while others are worse during the cold months.
Since winter is on its way in the Northern Hemisphere, we're going to cover precisely why and how cold air can cause a COPD flare-up. There are also ways to avoid having problems if you have to leave the house during a cold snap because unfortunately, no one can hibernate and avoid winter altogether.
Alternatively, perhaps you enjoy going outside during the winter and want to go skiing, or build a snowman? Knowing why your lungs can react badly to cold weather due to your COPD can help you avoid shortness of breath or a trip to the hospital.
During cold weather, people with chronic lung conditions can experience extra tightness in the airways, due to irritation from too much cold air. This happens the most when COPD patients spend too much time outdoors when the temperature is below freezing. The colder it is, the more trouble you will likely have.
Cold is very drying to mucous membranes, causing the lungs to become irritated and inflamed. More sputum is produced in the airways, which is your worst enemy when it comes to COPD.
This can also happen if you are overexerting yourself when the weather is chilly, but not entirely below freezing. Generally, below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, you should be outdoors for no longer than 20 minutes, as long as you are dressed appropriately.
If the temperature is around 20 degrees, limit your time to 10 minutes or less. Usually, if it's less than 15 degrees, most people are advised to stay indoors or to warm up as much as possible. If you have lung condition especially, you should be staying warm and breathing temperate, moist air.
How to Protect Your Lungs During Cold Weather
Wear a scarf around your nose and mouth. Your warmth will be insulated behind a wool scarf, and the air you breathe in won't be as cold or dry.
Use a humidifier in your home. While the temperatures outside are cold, you should try to make the air inside your home moist, which will keep your lungs from getting dried out and irritated. This will also help keep you from getting sick because your airways and mucous membranes can easily maintain the right level of lubrication and protection.
Avoid other triggers as much as possible. If you want to spend a little more time outside in the winter (as long as its otherwise safe), avoiding other triggers like cigarette smoke and indoor pollutants is even more critical.
It would help if you didn't fear winter or trap yourself indoors. Just take a few precautions, and you'll be able to enjoy winter's beauty with the rest of your family.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: October 2, 2018
- Canadian Lung Association. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Last updated: October 19, 2014. https://www.lung.ca/lung-health/lung-disease/copd/triggers