Living with Respiratory Conditions in Cold Weather

Living with Respiratory Conditions in Cold Weather

If you have a chronic (long-term, ongoing) respiratory condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, the arrival of winter can herald an increase in symptoms, more trips to the doctor and a reduction in your quality of life. In the cold weather, people with respiratory diseases can experience shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and coughing.

However, taking some simple preventative measures may help you to feel better and prevent you from becoming unwell as the season progresses.

Here are our six top tips for people living with respiratory diseases during the cold weather…

1. Keep warm

In cold weather it is easy to become chilled very quickly without even realising it. Wearing the right clothing is essential to keep yourself warm and prevent your respiratory symptoms from worsening.

Thermal underwear can provide a layer of warmth close to your body without being bulky or uncomfortable and you should keep your feet dry and your head covered.

Getting drenched is also a major cause of illness so keep an eye on the weather forecast and make sure you have something waterproof with you in case of a sudden downpour.

Keep warm in bed at night and aim to keep your house heated to a temperature of around 21 degrees in living areas and 18 degrees in the bedroom for comfortable sleeping.

2. Stay on top of your medication

If you have been prescribed a bronchodilator the best time to use it is around an hour before you go out of the house rather than waiting until you are outside.

The cold air can cause a sudden tightening of the airways which can make you feel breathless and may trigger coughing, but taking your medication before you leave the house may help to prevent this.

If you have a lung condition, you are entitled to a free flu vaccine so be sure to take this up with your GP.

3. Take regular exercise

Although it can be tempting to stay cocooned in the house during cold weather, this is not good for your lungs. Doing regular exercise can help to keep your blood circulating and strengthen your lungs.

However, don’t take strenuous exercise outside in cold weather as it can lead to a worsening of symptoms. Talk to a respiratory specialist about the most appropriate exercise for you.

In most cases, gentle walking or yoga is a great form of exercise and getting outside will also help to prevent the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD syndrome).

4. Breathe right

Wearing a scarf over your nose on mouth on cold days can help to warm the air before it reaches your lungs.

It can also be helpful to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth, although this is not always possible if you have a cold.

5. Avoid catching seasonal viruses

It is important to avoid becoming unwell with a virus if you can. Alongside having your flu jab, try and avoid anywhere that is too busy where you may be likely to come into contact with germs.

Wash your hands regularly with soap. If you know someone has a cold or flu, avoid spending time with them until the illness has passed.

6. Beware of pollution

Often we tend to associate pollution with high summer temperatures, but in areas that are not covered by smokeless fuel legislation there can be a great deal of pollution from open fires and woodburners. Try to avoid such areas if you can.


If you have a respiratory condition that persists for more than two weeks, it is important to get a proper diagnosis. Shortness of breath, tightness in your chest and coughing could be signs of a more serious underlying condition, such as asthma or COPD.

Chronic respiratory conditions can normally be managed effectively with a mix of lifestyle changes and medication.