How To Deal With Cold Air and Breathing
Dear Dr. Mahler:
I have had COPD for about 4 years and live in Mankato, Minnesota, where it gets very cold during the winter months. I try to go outside most days, but I am worried that the cold air will bother or hurt my lungs. It always seems harder to breathe when it is below zero. During other times of the year, I am quite active. My inhalers include Bevespi twice a day and Ventolin for rescue. What are your thoughts?
Debra from Mankato, MN
Breathing in cold and dry air can irritate the breathing tubes, particularly if you have asthma or COPD. Typical symptoms are cough, shortness of breath, and even feeling as if your lungs “hurt.”
There is no evidence that the lungs actually freeze if someone breathes in cold air. The nose and mouth are built to warm and humidify cold and dry air before this air reaches deep into the lungs.
Here are some tips for dealing with cold air and your COPD.
- Place a scarf over your nose and mouth or wear a cold weather face mask. A scarf helps to lock in warm air that you are exhaling. In addition, the common cold virus replicates more rapidly in your nose when bathed by cold air.
An alternative approach is to purchase a cold weather mask as shown below. Wearing a face mask will keep your mouth and nose from the cold and wind. Masks are often made of water and wind resistant neoprene shells and feature breathing holes that are used to easily allow air passage to where your mouth is. Make sure to choose a face mask that’s lined with fleece that will provide comfort and warmth to your skin.
- Pre-heat your car or truck. If possible, ask a family member to start the vehicle for a few minutes before you go out.
- If you use oxygen, place your oxygen tubing inside your coat to keep it warm. The cold temperature may stiffen the tubing, possibly reducing the flow of oxygen.
- Minimize exertion outdoors when it is cold. See if someone else can carry your oxygen system and any packages.
- Drink a warm glass of tea, coffee, or cocoa when you return home. This will help to “warm you up.”
Debra – I hope that these simple “tips” are helpful to you dealing with cold air. Keep active indoors during the winter months.
Please note, the advice provided is not a substitute for asking your health care professional about your specific situation.
Donald A. Mahler, M.D.