Protecting Your Airways from Winter Cold

low temperature signSub-zero temperatures do more than just make you shiver; exposure to cold, dry air can also make your respiratory symptoms worse.  For many people with pre-existing lung conditions, breathing cold air acts as a trigger for bronchospasm, or a sudden narrowing of the airways. When the airways constrict, less air is able to travel to and from the lungs making breathing more difficult.  Exposure to cold air can also worsen other respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing and coughing.

To protect your airways from cold-induced bronchospasm, take the following precautions:

  • Stay indoors whenever possible during extreme weather. Monitor weather conditions by paying close attention to weather alerts.
  • Use your rescue inhaler as directed before going outdoors. Be sure to carry it with you if you plan to be away from home on cold or windy days.
  • Breathe through your nose, not your mouth. Your nose naturally warms and humidifies your inspired air making it easier to breathe.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or cold weather mask. Similar to breathing through your nose, this warms the air you breathe before it hits your airways.

More Cold Weather Tips

When cold weather prevents you from enjoying the great outdoors, the following tips will ensure that the time spent indoors is much more comfortable:

  • Dress in layers. Wearing layers of warm clothing allows you to adjust to changing temperatures as you move from indoors to outdoors and vice versa.
  • Take steps to improve your indoor air quality, especially if the majority of your time is spent indoors during winter.
  • Stay active. A body in motion generates more heat than a body at rest.
  • Keep your living room temperature slightly warmer than your bedroom. Wear warm pajamas when you sleep to keep from getting cold when temperatures drop to their lowest.
  • Make sure you get a flu shot. Getting sick with the flu virus will only add to the worsening respiratory symptoms that you may experience in colder weather.

If cold weather literally takes your breath away, implementing the precautions listed above will help you stay healthy, safe and warm throughout the long winter.

 

Author: Deborah Leader RN, BSN, PHN

 

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