Dear COPD Coach,
I have had COPD for three years and am on oxygen 24 hours a day. I was hoping you could answer the one question I cannot seem to find–it seems like the weather affects how I feel, especially on overcast and cloudy days, I really feel lousy. During cold weather, if oxygen is moist, the cold of the moisture chills my lungs and can make my entire body feel cold. Do you have any suggestions on how I can remedy this situation? Any advice would be much appreciated.
Dear Weather Watcher,
You are certainly not alone with weather-related breathing problems. How the weather affects COPD symptoms varies from patient to patient. Most generally, the extremes in weather are not good for most, and temperatures below freezing and above 90 tend to cause your COPD symptoms to flare up. Besides a shortness of breath you may also experience an increase in sputum production. Cold temperatures can also lead to fatigue and cause you not to feel your best. If you experience breathing problems in cold and windy weather, try wearing a scarf or face mask and breathe through your nose as much as possible. If you use supplemental oxygen, keep your oxygen hose under your coat to keep the air as warm as possible.
While there are a few people with COPD who actually breathe better during periods of high humidity, most of us will experience difficulty during high heat, humidity and especially smog. As the humidity in the air increases, the air becomes denser, which creates more resistance to airflow in the lung. During days with high heat and humidity people with COPD should restrict their activities as much as possible and remain in an air conditioned environment.
The barometric pressure seems to affect some with COPD. I have often had patients tell me that they can actually predict weather based on their breathing. As the barometric pressure drops there is less oxygen in the air, very similar as to when you experience higher elevations. This can cause a worsening in your COPD symptoms. On the other hand, others feel that their breathing is more difficult in good weather when there is a high-pressure weather system in place.
Another factor that affects some people with COPD is wind. While not fully understood, some people with COPD become increasingly short of breath on windy days, and even in some cases experience difficulties with moving air from fans.
While the effects of weather differ in people with COPD, if you experience problems in certain weather conditions, here is what you can do to help yourself:
- Take your medications as prescribed. If you use an emergency inhaler, make sure it is available to you during adverse conditions. Do NOT keep your inhaler in your car. Aerosol inhalers can be depended upon to operate fully only in temps of about 50-80 degrees.
- During weather extremes, arrange your schedule to go out only during times of moderate temperatures or humidity.
- In cold temperatures use a scarf or mask and be sure to shield your oxygen hoses.
- Keep the air in your home as clean as possible by using a good HEPA air cleaner, change furnace filters regularly and replace with high quality, high rated filters
- Keep the humidity in your home at a level that is comfortable for you.
- Do not leave your home during days with high pollution! If you do have to leave your home, do not exert. In other words, do not walk or bike outdoors for exercise on clean air action days.
Hope this helps!
–The COPD Coach
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