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  • Writer's pictureChristina Hunt

8 Winter Breathing Tips for People with Lung Conditions

Winter breathing tips, copd, emphysema, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, pif, mac, lam, ntm, bronchiectasis, cold weather breathing tips

Hello Everyone! I am back to the “land of the living” after a week-long battle with some sort of respiratory virus. (Go figure.) It truly reminds me of the “fight” that many of you face every day. I am definitely grateful for all of you and your well wishes that you sent me last week. I felt the love and encouragement when I needed it… thank you so much for that.

I wanted to get into another seasonal post. We have chilled down quite a bit in Virginia this week and to the west of Richmond they have gotten some snow fall. Temperatures this morning were below freezing so I am feeling like a winter weather post is in order. For many of my patients, winter is a difficult season. Not only are they unsure of travel conditions but they typically feel more short of breath when they do venture outdoors. Why is this? Cold air can cause bronchospasm (constriction of your airways). This makes it harder for air to get in and out of your lungs. People also struggle with the extreme change in temperature and humidity from going from warm air inside to cold dry air outside. Narrowing of the airways can possibly lead to a series of worsening conditions like mucous production, coughing, and even flare-ups or exacerbations of a chronic lung condition.

Here are 8 ways that people with lung conditions can reduce breathlessness in the winter

1. Take your breathing medications regularly. – Taking your breathing medications will allow your lungs to fight off inflammation and will reduce any bronchospasms that you may encounter. Remember to take your controller medications the same time every day to treat your lung condition consistently. Always have your rescue inhaler available if you need to treat any shortness of breath that may occur due to exposure to the outside temperatures. If you know that you will be venturing outside and that you will most likely feel breathless, use your rescue inhaler ahead of time as a preventative measure.

2. Use a scarf to help warm the air you breathe – Loosely wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth will help to warm the air that you are breathing. Make sure the scarf is not one with lots of “loose fibers” so as to not breathe those in. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth to allow your nose and nasopharynx to help moisten and filter the air you breathe. You can also use a cold weather mask as long as it doesn’t feel too restrictive to breathe.

3. Moisten your nares. – I recommend using a saline nasal spray (like Ayr spray or Ayr gel) to moisten your nasal airway. When your nose gets dry it feels as though it is “stopped up” or congested. This may cause you to mouth breathe which isn’t recommended outdoors.

4. Exercise indoors – For people with chronic lung conditions, it is recommended during any type of extreme temperatures (hot or cold) to exercise indoors. Reducing your exposure to frigid temperatures will only help you to breathe more comfortably during your exercise. If you must exercise outdoors, make sure you warm-up for at least 15 minutes before going outside. However, my strong suggestion is that you wait to exercise outdoors when the temperatures are milder.

5. Be aware of air quality forecast – During the winter, air pollution can be elevated. In addition to that, many people are burning wood which can trigger wheezing for those with asthma and other reactive airways. Increased pollutants and frigid temperatures are not a good combination for people with lung conditions. Try to stay indoors when air quality is very poor. Typically, these numbers are reported each morning on your local news station and are available on a weather app as well. I use the Weather Channel app and it gives me more than enough information on air quality in my area.

Weather Channel app air quality information

6. Pre-heat your vehicle. – If you aren’t fortunate enough to have your vehicle parked in a warm garage, I suggest that you preheat your vehicle before venturing out on a cold day. Many vehicles these days are equipped with remote start technology which is extremely helpful in warming up your vehicle. These devices can also be purchased after market and installed. (A wonderful birthday, anniversary, or Christmas gift J) If remote start or a garage just isn’t in the cards, see if a loved one or roommate could start your car for you in advance of heading out.

7. If using oxygen, run your tubing under your coat. – This tip was given to me by one of my awesome patients. They suggested that zipping or buttoning your jacket over your nasal cannula tubing will warm the oxygen slightly before getting to your airways. The suggestion made sense to me so I thought I would pass it along!

8. Plan ahead – Look at the forecast and plan your outings and errands on days that the weather is milder. Planning ahead can reduce your anxiety and help you prepare for times that you might have to stay in a few extra days to avoid severe weather outbreaks.

Thanks for Reading!

If you enjoyed this blog, I invite you to check out some of the topics I have covered in the past

Remember: We are in this TOGETHER!

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:) Christina

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