9 Fall Tips for People with Lung Conditions
Fall has almost arrived in Virginia and I am a total sucker for fall colors and everything pumpkin spice! Usually by this time of year, I am completely over the heat and humidity and I look forward to moving on with the next season. However, for many people with lung conditions this time of year isn’t so easy to slide into. Fall can bring all sorts of new “obstacles” for people with lung conditions to maneuver around. Whether it be the cool air, leaves falling, or decreased air quality due to airway “triggers,” autumn can tend to present some real challenges for a person managing a chronic lung condition. I have some great suggestions on how you can get through the season easier and with less breathlessness.
Here are my Fall Tips for People with Lung Conditions
1. Prepare for the Cool Air– Sure, the cool air is a welcome change from the heat but are your lungs prepared for the change? Wear a light weight jacket on cooler days when going outside. When lung patients tend to wear heavier clothing, it puts unnecessary weight on their shoulder muscles which are often used as accessory muscles to breathe. Dressing in light layers will give you warmth without the bulk. Layers can also be easily shed in order to keep you comfortable. Have a scarf available to lightly hold to your mouth to warm the outside air as you breathe. Also, wear proper footwear to prevent slipping and keep your feet warm.
2. Drink Plenty of Liquids– Staying hydrated is a cornerstone to great lung health. When the air outside cools down and you aren’t sweating so much, it may be easy to forget to drink fluids. However, heating and air conditioning can be very drying to the body. Make sure you are being diligent by drinking plenty of hydrating liquids like water. Avoid sugary drinks like sodas and juices. Drinking plenty of water helps people with lung conditions thin any mucus they have in their lungs making it easier to expel. It keeps your airways supple and your skin hydrated. Not drinking enough water can cause drowsiness and confusion and can slow digestion.
3. Get Your Flu Shot– Yep! It’s that time of year again when we need to think about getting the flu shot. People with chronic lung conditions are in the “high risk” category when it comes to getting the flu. According to the CDC “An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help protect against the flu. Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about 2 weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.” What happens is that the CDC does research and determines which 3 seasonal flu viruses are going to be popular during flu season. Then they make antibodies for them. Yes, it is still possible that you can get the flu even if you get the flu shot but, physicians believe that the effects of the flu may not be as bad if you have had your flu shot.
4. Eat a Healthy Diet– I don’t know about you all, but the fall signals the time for comfort food in the kitchen. We all love to enjoy dishes such as chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and baked pastas when it is chilly outside. However, the high carbohydrates associated with these seasonal comfort foods gets us in trouble with weight gain and the carbon dioxide that is produced when carbohydrates are broken down by our bodies. Instead take advantage of the fall harvest season by cooking up delicious vegetables like Brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach and kale. Stick to eating lean proteins that can be roasted in the oven when it gets too cold out to grill. I also really enjoy cooking up “lightened” variations of the classic comfort foods. I often visit Cookinglight.com and Skinneytaste.com for inspiration on how I can lighten up a few of my favorites.
5. Indoor Air Quality– Even though the temperatures are milder in the early part of fall, don’t be tempted to leave the windows open. Ragweed (which blooms in the fall) and leaf mold and its spores are amongst the outdoor triggers that can cause asthmatics and those with reactive airways to have a flare-up. It may help to dust and vacuum a bit more regularly as many people tend to spend more time indoors in the fall. Change your air filters in your home regularly to cut down on anything like dust and other microbes that can float through the air. Fall is also a great time to schedule pre-winter heating and air conditioning unit preventative maintenance. Having these units working properly will cut down on the likelihood of it malfunctioning during the cold of winter as well as may aid in the efficacy of how it runs.
6. Leaf Clean-up- Many lung patients look forward to seeing the leaves change color and all the beauty as Mother Nature puts on her show, but when the leaves fall there is leaf mold. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, “Mold spores get into your nose and cause hay fever symptoms. They also can reach the lungs and trigger asthma. A chemical released by allergy cells in the nose and or lungs causes the symptoms. Sometimes the reaction happens right away. Sometimes a mold allergy can cause delayed symptoms, leading to nasal congestion or worsening asthma over time. Rarely, some patients can have a more serious illness called allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis. In this condition, there is both an allergic and an inflammatory response to the mold. Symptoms may include severe wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath, much like asthma.”
If you have a lung diagnosis, you must prevent your exposure to what can potentially cause a flare up with your breathing condition. So, here’s what you should do if you need to clear your yard of fallen leaves.
a. Pretreat your lungs by using your short acting bronchodilator often referred to as your rescue inhaler. Have this inhaler handy if you feel you need a follow-up dose.
b. Take precautions and if you must rake the leaves then wear a light weight mask. The mask will help prevent spores floating in the air from getting into your airways and irritating them.
c. Take a break – pace yourself while raking the leaves. Take breaks as needed to rest and recover any breathlessness that might have occurred.
d. Hydrate – Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
7. Check Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Alarms– Prior to heating your home whether it be by electric or gas heat or wood stove, you should check to may sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms are functioning properly. If you use your fireplace for heating purposes, make sure you have your chimney swept to prevent the occurrence of a flue fire.
8. Take Your Breathing Meds as Directed and Have Rescue Inhaler Handy – Because if the various outside triggers and cooler temperatures, fall is not the time to experiment with reducing the amount of breathing medications that you are taking. Make sure you start your day with your controllers that tend to keep inflammation in your airways at bay. Use your short acting bronchodilator to prepare for outside activities so that you reduce the reaction that your airways might have to the environment outside.
9. Be Seen By a Physician Promptly If You Notice More Shortness of Breath- Even after doing all the “right” things flare-ups and lung infections can happen. Make sure you see your doctor right away if you notice more breathlessness, change in amount or color of sputum, experience a temperature, or feel more lethargic and just “not yourself.” It can be much more difficult to shake a flare-up or infection if you wait to be seen by your doctor. For many of my patients that experience frequent exacerbations this time of year, I recommend asking their physician about having an “emergency” prescription for an antibiotic. That way if they should present with symptoms over a weekend or a holiday, that they can start taking a medication right away.
Thanks for reading!
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