Winter is something Karen Ruckert doesn’t particularly enjoy. As a result of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the 69-year-old from Far Rockaway, New York, finds it challenging to breathe even when resting, particularly when moving around. However, the chilly air just makes matters worse.
Ruckert declares, “Cold truly steals my breath away.
A same issue affects 31-year-old dental hygienist Nava Myers. She is an asthmatic. Her lungs tighten up when it’s cold outside. “When I stop to collect my breath while walking, I wheeze. As soon as I go outside the door, I feel the stiffness and restriction.
Breathing can be challenging in colder weather for people who have respiratory diseases (including asthma, COPD, sinusitis, or allergies) or who may be suffering with COVID-19’s long-term consequences.
Respiratory therapist Jodi Jaeger works at Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital.
explains that the airways are impacted by the low temperature and low humidity.
According to her, “cold, dry air irritates the lungs and causes the muscles that surround the airways to contract, resulting in the airways actually narrowing.” The disease is known medically as bronchospasm.
There is less room for air to enter and escape because of the small airways. Additionally, due to the narrower airways, mucus in the airways has a tendency to dry out and become more difficult to expel. in order to block the airways with mucus.
According to Jaeger, this can cause wheezing or coughing often, shortness of breath, a tightness or feeling of constriction in the chest, and sometimes a burning sensation.
Even healthy individuals who engage in strenuous exercise in extremely cold weather run the risk of developing these symptoms.
Fortunately, there are lots of straightforward self-care techniques to lower the risk and control the symptoms.
Take Off Your Face
When going outside in chilly weather, Jaeger recommends people to protect their faces and dress in layers of clothing.
It’s crucial to cover your mouth and nose in particular with a scarf, a cold-weather face mask (not a thin medical “COVID-type” mask), or a neck gaiter that extends over your face, advises Jaeger.
This holds some moisture and aids in warming the air surrounding the nose. Although some people find it irritating when their scarves become damp, you are breathing in moisture as opposed to chilly, dry air.
When it’s cold outside, Ruckert covers her face but leaves a little area around her nose slightly exposed since her glasses steam up and she can’t see where she’s going.
Myers wears a “circular scarf” around her neck region. She covers her ears as well. “I wear a really good, bundly scarf that covers my throat, mouth, nose, and ears because I feel the cold even in my ears.”
Utilize Your Nose to Breathe
Because the nose is a “better humidifier than the mouth,” according to Jaeger, breathing through the nose is preferable to breathing through the mouth. In order to prevent chest tightness, shortness of breath, and bronchospasm brought on by the cold, it is recommended to cover your face while inhaling through your nose.
Avoid Strenuous Outdoor Exercise When It Is Extremely Cold
According to Jaeger, exercising makes breathing more difficult because it increases the volume of air you breathe compared to when you’re at rest. That results in the tightness and burning sensation, which may eventually induce wheezing.
Strenuous outdoor exercise in extremely cold weather, especially for longer than 30 minutes, can cause symptoms that can last up to 24 hours even in people without lung disease.
If you enjoy running or other strenuous outdoor exercise, dress appropriately and drink enough of water. Additionally, Jaeger suggests that you think about shortening your workout either in terms of duration or intensity.
Ruckers and Myers both try to avoid going for walks outside when it’s cold.
When Myers does venture outside in the cold and tries to walk with his buddies, he says, “I have to stop and collect my breath.
In chilly weather, Myers is unable to walk and talk at the same time. Even though I may be trying to convey a narrative, there comes a time when I have to pause, take a break, and finish the story at home.
Jaeger observes that during cold weather, the air is dryer both indoors and outside. When you stay hydrated, your body will be better able to protect your lungs from the elements and your mucus will be less thick and less prone to become obstructed. In order to prevent dry skin and lips, she also advises using lotion and lip balm.
Herbal tea that is warm or hot is advised, as well as water with lemon and raw honey. An added benefit is that some teas, including chamomile or peppermint, help relax the airways.
Maintain Your Indoor Environment as Well
People spend more time indoors in the winter, and there are steps you can take to make your indoor environment better for respiratory health. For instance, take additional care to keep your home tidy and free of allergens like dust that can impair breathing.
Jaeger advises using a humidifier to balance out the air’s tendency to get dry after utilising radiators.
In this manner, she explains, “you’re building up the body’s humidification so that when you go outside, you’re not at a fluid deficit.”
She cautions to routinely clean the humidifier to prevent the buildup of bacteria and mould that could release them into the air. Follow the directions on the packaging, or clean with vinegar and water.
Small disposable water bottles can be used with some portable humidifiers. They can be utilised when travelling, in the car, or at the office. By using a throwaway bottle, mould and germs are kept from growing.
Ruckert covers the radiators with a pail of water. The air gets moister as the water evaporation continues.
You may improve your breathing in addition to the quality of the air by utilising essential oils like eucalyptus, peppermint, and tea tree oil. You can rub it on yourself or place it on a cotton ball next to your pillow, according to Jaeger, so that you can smell it.
Medication for Breathing Assistance
Usually, people with respiratory disorders use medication to control their symptoms. Some are taken on a regular basis, while others are “rescue” drugs that should only be taken when symptoms appear.
Jaeger advises taking your rescue inhaler as directed before going outside in the chilly weather. In case you require the medication outside, carry it with you.
According to Jaeger, it is ideal for persons with recognised respiratory issues to have an action plan with their healthcare physician. Most patients with these diseases are able to use a peak flow metre to gauge how much air is being ejected from their lungs. “You should be aware of when to contact your physician and when your medication dosage may need to be changed.”
She underlines that if you’ve never had a breathing issue before and you suddenly started experiencing one, you should take it seriously, especially if straightforward self-care techniques don’t help. And you should seek medical assistance right away if you have extreme dyspnea or wheezing and can’t finish your sentences.
Myers uses a variety of inhalers, some on a regular basis and others only as necessary. She says, “I feel they don’t make a big enough difference in cold weather, and their cost is outrageous, so I just choose to stay inside in the winter.”