Cold Weather Tips for People with Breathing Problems

People with breathing difficulties are being urged to take extra care during cold weather.

Every winter GP surgeries and hospitals see an increase in visits from people with breathing conditions.

People with respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, can be particularly susceptible to the effects of breathing in cold air, finding themselves shorter of breath and coughing more than usual.

Dr Helena O’Flynn, Respiratory Consultant and clinical lead for respiratory conditions in North East Lincolnshire, said there are steps people with lung disease can take to fight the impact of the cold as cold weather causes an increase in inflammation of the lungs.

Wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth can help prevent asthma attacks, for example. Three-quarters of people with asthma find their symptoms get worse when they breathe in cold air but when you breathe through a scarf, it warms the air up. This helps prevents the cold air irritating your airways and triggering an asthma attack.

“If you’re not in the best of health, it’s important to keep warm by wearing layers of clothing when it’s cold,” said Dr O’Flynn. “This may sound obvious, but is something people often forget or don’t plan for. For example, when popping out on short trips such as to the local shops, people can underestimate how quickly the cold can affect them, and leave the house without suitable clothing.”

Keeping warm at home is also crucial. The optimum room temperature is around 21 degrees in the living room, around 18 in the bedroom. It is better to make sure the bedroom is nice and warm before going to bed to ensure you stay comfortable throughout the night. During really cold weather, people should also wear warmer night clothes. This is again something too many people don’t do, forgetting that their body temperature drops as they sleep.

Staying active and doing some exercise can also be extremely helpful, by keeping the blood circulating and the body warm. Appropriate exercise is generally good for strengthening lung health at any time of year – if you have a lung condition, your doctor will be able to advise you of a suitable level of exercise for you. If its icy think about places you can exercise indoors such as supermarkets or shopping centers.

Those on medication should carry it with them, and people who have been prescribed bronchodilators can  use them half an hour before leaving the house if the cold weather usually makes you wheezy or breathless.

People should ensure they have an adequate supply of regular medicines at home before a cold snap starts and those on rescue packs should check they have them and they are in date. Being extra careful to take your medicines as prescribed is very important in a cold snap.

There are often also outbreaks of flu in periods of cold weather, so anyone with a lung condition should contact their GP to take advantage of the free flu vaccine they are entitled to, if they haven’t already.

In some circumstances, cold weather can help people without a diagnosed lung condition identify whether they are showing some of the early warning signs. In North East Lincolnshire we have more than 4000 people living with COPD but estimate a further 800 plus people remain undiagnosed.

Anyone who notices the cold weather bringing on a cough, phlegm and shortness of breath that doesn’t go away after rest and over the counter treatment recommended by a pharmacy should consider getting it checked out at their GP Practice.

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