4 Tips for Getting Through Winter With COPD

Cold weather is rough on people with breathing issues. Help prevent flare-ups with these smart strategies.

Senior woman drinking coffee outside in winter

Updated on October 5, 2023.

For many people with COPD, winter is a challenge. Not only can dry, frigid air put stress on your airways, but seasonal colds and flu are often harder on those with lung problems. You may find yourself coughing, wheezing, or struggling to catch your breath. You might even experience a dangerous COPD flare-up, which occurs when your symptoms become especially bad. 

Don’t let the change of season leave you out in the cold. When the temperature drops, keep these tips in mind.

Avoid illness as best you can

Protect yourself from getting sick by regularly washing your hands or using hand sanitizer. Steer clear of crowds along with friends and loved ones you know to be sick. Try not to touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, since germs travel easily on hands. Most importantly, get your yearly flu shot, and ask your healthcare provider (HCP) about a pneumococcal vaccine and the most recent COVID-19 shot or booster for your age group.

Keep warm indoors and out

When you’re home, adjust the thermostat to at least 64 degrees F. You may want to keep the living room a little warmer. At night, wear cozy pajamas, consider a heated blanket, and close your window to keep cold air out. Don’t be tempted by your fireplace, either, since smoke can irritate lungs.

Venturing outside? Bundle up in multiple layers, which retain heat but allow for adjustment as the temperature changes. On especially cold days, wear something over your nose and mouth, like a scarf, to protect your airways. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth can help take the chill out of the air, too.

Be prepared

Each day, check the weather forecast and air quality index (on airnow.gov) to monitor for cold snaps, snowfall, or high levels of pollution. Make sure you have enough medication on hand for storms when the pharmacy might be closed. Speak with your HCP, too, about a plan for COPD flares or emergencies during harsh weather. 

Stick to a healthy lifestyle

It can be more difficult in winter to eat fresh produce and to exercise outdoors when resources and activities are naturally limited. Despite the weather, you can still:

  • Quit smoking if you haven’t already. Even after a diagnosis of COPD, it’s the single best thing patients can do for their health.
  • Move around. Be as active as you can, even if you can’t get outside as much as you would like. Speak with an HCP for indoor activity recommendations.
  • Take your prescriptions. Don’t skip or stop your regular meds, even if you feel fine.

Whatever the season, reach out to your HCP right away if you have unusual or worsening symptoms, such as wheezing, problems catching your breath, or a cough producing darker, thicker, or excess mucus. The faster you speak up, the faster you can be treated.

Article sources open article sources

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Is COPD? Last updated on March 24, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Basics About COPD. Last Reviewed: June 30, 2023.
American Lung Association. “Cold Weather and Your Lungs,” “Tips to Keep Your Lungs Healthy,” “Protecting Your Lungs.”
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).”
MedlinePlus. “COPD flare-ups.”
American Thoracic Society. “Patient Education/Information Series: Exacerbation of COPD.”
Canadian Lung Association. “Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).”
UptoDate.com. “Patient Education: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) treatments (Beyond the Basics).”
British Lung Foundation. “Keeping well in the cold: what you can do.”
Cleveland Clinic. “How Cold Weather Can Spell Trouble for Your Heart and Lungs.”
National Health System (UK). “Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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