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6 Ways to Manage COPD During Winter

COPD Basics

December 04, 2023

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Photography by Justin Mullet/Stocksy United

Photography by Justin Mullet/Stocksy United

by Barbara Moore

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Medically Reviewed by:

Thomas Johnson, PA-C

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•••••

by Barbara Moore

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Thomas Johnson, PA-C

•••••

•••••

Here are practical tips for managing your COPD when the temperatures drop.

Those of us with COPD talk about it all the time. Once the weather starts to cool during the autumn or winter months and the temperature lingers closer to the freezing mark, our breathing can become labored. We often hear wheezing in our chest that wasn’t there a few days ago.

It can certainly be a frightening time because we have done nothing to cause this increase in symptoms, and we are aware that these symptoms can turn life-threatening on a dime. Symptoms naturally happen as fall drizzle and winter snow add humidity to the air. Taking a deep breath can cause coughing and irritation of the lungs.

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How to manage COPD during winter

I can recall the countless times that I have been unable to breathe in cold weather, taken by ambulance to the hospital, and woke up ventilated. My doctors are unable to identify why this keeps happening, but I have suspicions that the combination of heart and lung failure is the culprit. 

Here are some practical tips I’ve learned to help manage my COPD during colder seasons:

Bundle up indoors and outdoors

Cooler outside weather makes cooler inside temperatures. My hands, feet, and head can get freezing just from sitting at my desk or reading a book.

Having a pair of indoor gloves helps, and I don’t mind slipping them on because I can use them even when I have to type. I use men’s wool work socks for added comfort to warm my feet, sometimes doubling them up. Finally, my wool hat keeps my head warm, and I wear a heavy sweater.

When I need to go out in cold weather physically, I need to stay warm.

When short of breath, I get a little claustrophobic and find wearing outerwear restrictive. Getting my coat off can be a huge issue, and it’s often a struggle for me, so I don’t wear a coat anymore.

I prefer wearing a shawl, a cape, or a small blanket, and I often wear them at the same time. This gives me the flexibility to move and shrug them off if I have to without feeling restricted.

Wear a mask

Wearing a surgical mask is a big protector against viruses, but it also helps calm your breathing when it is windy or cold. I always have one at my fingertips, especially when I go to hospitals, medical appointments, and when shopping or going into a crowd of people. 

Never underestimate using a wool scarf to wrap around your nose and your mouth because it helps keep the air going into your lungs warm.

Check your oxygen equipment

I wear oxygen 24/7, 365 days a year, and when I go door to door, my tubing is exposed to the cold air. My tubing is a magnet for cold air. 

My husband came up with an ingenious way of keeping the cannulas out of the cold. He took 1-inch insulation tape and wrapped the cannulas in it. This helps to keep the air going into my lungs on the warmer side rather than having to breathe in cool air, and it works wonders.

Enjoy a cup of tea

Schedule a break in the afternoon to have an herbal tea. You may have to go through a few flavors or types before you find the one that’s for you. If you buy a variety of herbal teas, you will likely find one you can’t live without.

Tea, like soup, warms me from the inside out, giving me something to look forward to every afternoon. I also have a particular Chinese teacup to use during my tea time.

Stay active and eat healthy

Once you have had your tea party, it’s time to exercise. When starting with exercise, try doing sitting exercises and building up to standing and balance positions.

Talk with your doctor about enrolling in a respiratory rehab program online or in person. You will be taught the proper techniques for exercising and optimizing your breathing. Often, rehab has two components: one is exercise, and the other is education.

Eating a clean diet and minimizing carbohydrates helps me. I try to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables and cut back on red meats. Instead, I stick to more chicken, turkey, and fish.

Take care of your mental health

Finally, it is a constant battle to keep our mental health positive by practicing mindfulness and staying in the moment.

Along with the cold weather come shortened days and longer, darker nights. Some people find this time of the year frustrating, as they have Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This can leave us dipping in and out of a state of depression for no apparent reason, only to find that the lack of sunshine is key. Those of us with COPD are not exempt from seasonal depression.

Deciding on and being active with a hobby before the cold air hits gives us something to look forward to and keeps our hands and minds busy. Having a hobby is an excellent resource for our mental health.

Find something that challenges you and will give you a sense of satisfaction once completed. A hobby could also be something that you would give as a gift this season.

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Takeaway

I have had many severe exacerbations during the winter months. I am anxious about going out in the cold weather. It takes so much effort to get from my front door to the car, even when my husband or children are helping me. The anxiety is real, and we must learn to manage it.

Staying warm inside and out, finding routines that work best for you, and exercising are just a few ways to improve our emotional and physical health with COPD during the colder months.

Do you have any other tips for managing cold weather with COPD? Share your experience with the community in our forums.

Medically reviewed on December 04, 2023


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