Cold Weather and Your Lungs from the American Lung Association

With winter on our doorstep, many of us are looking forward to the beauty of the season and the unique social and recreational activities that only winter can offer. But cold weather, and particularly cold air, can play havoc with your lungs and health. Here are some tips and tools to help you enjoy the winter weather, without putting your lungs at risk.

Cold air is often dry air, and for many, especially those with chronic lung disease, that can spell trouble. Dry air can irritate the airways of people with asthma, COPD or bronchitis. This can cause things that get in the way of winter fun, like wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. To help protect yourself from cold, dry air:

  • Take all medications as prescribed.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf when going out in the cold.
  • Avoid exercising outdoors in severe cold weather.

With cold weather comes cold and flu season. Take some common precautions to avoid getting and spreading a cold, the flu, and even the more serious pneumonia.

  • Get your flu shot. Immunization is your best protection.
  • Wash your hands. As a good rule of thumb, get rid of germs by scrubbing your hands under warm, soapy water for about 30 seconds, or long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice in your head.
  • If you have chronic lung disease, such as COPD or asthma, stay away from people with colds and flu.

“It now seems that grandma was right after all, getting a chill can predispose a person to respiratory infection including pneumonia,” says American Lung Association Senior Scientific Advisor, Norman H. Edelman, M.D. “As she would have recommended, dress warmly, keep your feet dry and your head covered.”

Although a wood-burning fireplace may seem like the perfect place to warm up, the smoke and fumes from fireplaces can be very irritating to people with allergies or lung disease. An alternate heat source and a warm blanket might be the best choice for beating the chill.

Enjoy your favorite winter activities by keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Loosely wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth to warm the air before it enters your lungs. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Monitor air quality forecasts to stay healthy. Air pollution can be very high in the winter, especially in areas with a lot of wood burning. Those with asthma and other lung diseases are at higher risk for being harmed by air pollution.
  • If you have asthma or COPD, always keep quick-relief medications with you. Stop activity and use your quick-relief medicine as soon as you begin to have symptoms.
  • Keep others informed of your activity plan and whereabouts in case of emergency.

With just a little care, planning and common sense, anyone can enjoy the brisk cold weather this winter… while the rest of us look forward to spring!

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