For anyone who suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), cold weather conditions can often bring out the worst symptoms. Cold temps can regularly lead to fatigue, and even windy days can cause shortness of breath. It’s no secret that many suffering from the disease have found their symptoms become aggravated during colder weather. Those who experience respiratory illness may not realize how closely linked the heart and lungs are in their function. The lungs provide oxygen to the bloodstream and the heart pumps blood, delivering oxygen to various parts throughout the body. With an onset of low to extreme temperatures blood vessels begin to narrow, restricting blood flow and depriving the heart of oxygen. The heart pumps harder, which ultimately increases blood pressure.
The body responds to cold weather with an increased respiratory rate followed by a quick drop. Even mild temperatures can affect respiratory health and cause considerable stress on the respiratory system leading to a higher rate of cold-related mortality among the elderly. Humidity and wind also play a significant role in causing problems with those suffering from COPD. As humidity increases, the air becomes denser which creates resistance in airflow to the lungs. Even wind resistance can cause simple tasks such as walking, taking stairs, or daily activities to become laborious and tiring. Cold weather conditions also induce sputum production that creates further obstructions in the lungs. Unfortunately, these continued cold weather conditions usually compound negative respiratory health effects and further add to vulnerability.
Combat the Cold
- Change your schedule to avoid extreme poor weather and continue to monitor air quality reports (pollution doesn’t disappear in cold weather).
- If using oxygen, keep your oxygen hose covered to keep the air as warm as possible
- Do not burn wood on stoves or fireplaces to avoid smoke build-up
- Wear a scarf or facemask to cover your nose and mouth that will warm the air before it enters your lungs
- Avoid exposure to other factors that may aggravate your COPD including secondhand cigarette smoke, chemical fumes, dust, and irritants from your furnace or other heating units.
Throughout the winter, continue to see your doctor regularly and follow his or her advice on taking care of your health. If you’re not already participating, ask your doctor about pulmonary rehabilitation programs. They can help keep you active and healthy, even when the weather’s bad.
Finally, talk with your health care team if you’re feeling depressed or anxious. There are many ways to cope with these feelings to improve your health and your life. For instance, counseling or support groups let you talk through your emotions in a friendly environment. Light therapy or more sunlight exposure can lift your mood in darker months.