Dear COPD Coach,
I live in a northern climate and it looks like winter is coming pretty quick. Since I have only recently been diagnosed with COPD, what advice would you offer for staying healthy in the winter? I have been doing a lot of walking when the weather is nice. What effect will this have trying to walk in cold weather? I have heard that it is harder with COPD
-Looking for some answers
Winter can indeed be difficult for many people with COPD, however “difficult” does not necessarily mean impossible — if you take certain precautions. Here
are some common sense tips that may help:
- Get a flu shot and make sure your pneumonia vaccination is up-to-date. Getting the flu can cause an exacerbation (time when your COPD flares up and you experience difficulties). Each time you experience an exacerbation, additional damage to the lungs is possible. Many people with COPD have an already weakened immune system, which makes them more susceptible to flu and pneumonia
- Make sure that your furnace filters are clean, and have your furnace (and ductwork cleaned) to eliminate dust and reduce airborne contaminants.
- Make sure that you have adequate reserve food supplies, so that if the weather turns bad you will not be forced to go out when it may be dangerous to do so.
- Make sure your windows and doors are properly sealed to eliminate drafts.
- Maintain a daily indoor exercise routine. If outside exercise is difficult because of the cold, there are a variety of exercises you can do at home. Talk with your respiratory therapist about possible exercises. If you do not attend a pulmonary rehabilitation program check out our Big Fat Reference Guide (www.copdbfrg.org) for exercises you can do indoors. You might also consider purchasing a treadmill http://copddigest.org/read/172/Choosing+Home+Exercise+Equipment+Treadmillor exercise bike
- Avoid exposing yourself to inclement weather when it’s not necessary to venture out
- Be very careful about exposure to other people who are ill. If it’s unavoidable that you will be exposed to other people who might be ill, wear a mask, and wash your hands with a good alcohol based anti-bacterial soap immediately and often.
- Invest in a good quality air cleaner (please see your previous ask the coach letter on air cleaners).
- Call your doctor and seek medical attention at the first sign of symptoms of infection such as increased shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing or coughing, fever or chills.
Cold air is often a problem for many people with COPD and causes shortness of breath. Cold wind also causes problems. In both cases, a person with COPD will become fatigued quickly. If you must go out in cold weather, here are some tips that may help:
- Wear a scarf, mask and try and breathe through your nose to warm the air you are breathing.
- If you use an inhaler, ask your doctor if it is permissible to use it 30 minutes before you go out.
- If you use oxygen, keep your tubing inside your clothing to warm the air.
- Wear several layers of loose fitting garments so as not to constrict your breathing but allow you protection against the cold.
- Try and limit your exposure to the cold as much as possible and try to not over exert.
People with COPD must always take extraordinary care of themselves year round, but it takes an even greater significance during winter months. Sure, we all strive for mobility, but in the case of COPD sometimes you have to weigh whether the risk of an exacerbation or additional lung damage is worth the price of that mobility.
I sincerely hope this helps not only you but all the others out there with COPD to have a safe and healthy winter.
-The COPD Coach
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
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