4 Tips for Getting Through Winter With COPD

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

Medically reviewed in October 2021

For many people with COPD, winter is a challenge. Not only can dry, frigid air do a number 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 sanitizer. Steer clear of crowds along with friends and family 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. Ask your healthcare provider (HCP) about a pneumococcal vaccine, as well.

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 to protect your airways, like a scarf. Inhaling through your nose and exhaling out of your mouth can help take the chill out of the air, too.

Be prepared
Check weather and air quality forecasts each day to monitor for cold snaps, snowfall or high levels of pollution. Make sure you have enough medication on hand for storms; 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 tougher in winter, when resources and activities are naturally limited by weather. However, you can still:

  • Quit smoking if you haven’t already. Even after diagnosis, it’s the single best thing COPD patients can do for their health.
  • Move around. Be as active as you can. 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.

Sources:
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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