Winter is coming. How cold weather affects your lungs.

Winter is coming. How cold weather affects your lungs.

We have just passed the autumn equinox, where there the days start to rapidly shorten. This is a sure sign that winter is coming. Whilst this time of year can be a good excuse to be less active and enjoy indoor activities with friends and family, or be more active if you are into your winter sports, the colder weather can cause problems with our lungs and airways. How can you protect yourself and prevent any regular symptoms worsening?

Who suffers during winter?

Winter weather, particularly cold air can affect anyone with chronic lung disease, or if you suffer from conditions such as asthma or bronchitis.

Cold air tends to be drier and this can aggravate symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and breathlessness.

Protect yourself as much as possible by:

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a jacket or scarf when outside, to warm the air before it enters your lungs
  • Taking all medications as prescribed by your doctor
  • Avoiding exercising outside when it is particularly cold
  • Speaking to your doctor, or specialist, if you have any questions, or concerns about your health this winter

Consider a flu vaccination

Colds and flu viruses can aggravate existing respiratory conditions, exasperating symptoms and making you feel generally unwell and low on energy.

Ways to prevent further symptoms and sickness this winter include:

  • Wash your hand regularly to minimise bacteria spreading around your home
  • Avoid public transport if possible, as well as very crowded places
  • Consider a flu vaccination, as immunisation could be your best protection, particularly if you fall into a higher risk group, such as:
    • People over 65 years of age
    • Children below age 5
    • Pregnant women
    • Anyone with a chronic medical condition such as asthma, lung or heart disease
  • If you have a chronic lung condition, including COPD or asthma, it is wise to stay away from people with colds to avoid catching it yourself.

Watch for smoky fires and air pollution

Even though most homes these days are fitted with central heating systems, if you have a real fireplace or visit friends with one, it may seem like a cosy place to warm up on a cold evening.

However, wood-burning fireplaces can be particularly irritating if you suffer with any lung disease, or have allergies.

Smoke fumes and wood dust are common allergens that can bring on symptoms quite quickly – the same goes for outside log fires if you are attending something for Guy Fawkes or another celebration.

In addition, winter can cause the air pollution to be higher than usual, particularly in villages or small towns where more people do rely on burning wood for heat. Be mindful where you travel and look for any reports on air pollution if you have a lung disease or asthma.

Fresh air is still good for your health

Of course, nobody wants to stay locked inside until Spring, so when the weather is favourable, make sure you get some fresh air. Not only is it good so our bodies can generate Vitamin D from the sunlight, but it also gets the endorphins flowing.

Just make sure that you plan ahead. Here are a few final tips to remember when outside this winter:

  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. This warms the air before it reaches your lungs.
  • Use a scarf to protect your neck and throat.
  • Keep any quick-relief medications to hand if you have asthma or COPD
  • Stop any activity that is causing your symptoms to get worse
  • Keep other people informed of where you are going, in case of emergency
  • Wear a medical ID bracelet if you know your condition is severe and prone to flare-ups

Expert help is available to help you to better understand, manage and improve symptoms related to your respiratory health.