Tips for Coping With COPD and Cold Weather
Protect Your Air Supply
If you’re on supplemental oxygen, you may find your breathing becomes more labored and uncomfortable as the tank gets colder. If this is a problem, you’ll find that keeping the oxygen hose tucked under your coat when you’re out and about will help to warm the oxygen on the way to your airways.
As for your home, keep things clean and comfortable with a humidifier (or dehumidifier, as the case may be). Allergens are big COPD triggers, and they can build up quickly in the home, especially when moisture is high or when the outdoor environment can get inside. Have your furnace and ducts cleaned every year, and double check the seals on your windows and doors to ward off drafts.
When you go outside — and eventually, you will need to do so — you’ll want to be as comfortable and mobile as possible. Lots of heavy layers will keep you warm, but they could also interfere with your movement and weigh you down.
Consider investing in a few pieces of thin merino wool layers; this ultra-breathable fabric will keep your body at the perfect temperature, but it’s stretchy, soft, and thin enough to let you move freely.
If it’s too cold to breathe comfortably, you can warm and humidify the air you breathe by wrapping a wool or cotton scarf around your nose and mouth, and breathing through the cloth. Be sure to wash your scarf often with fragrance-free detergent, as directly breathing in any scents could trigger symptoms.
Get Your Flu Shot
Winter is also flu season, and contracting the flu can lead directly to an exacerbation — in fact, about 65 percent of COPD exacerbations follow a respiratory infection. Since COPD already lowers your natural immunity to viruses, you’ll need all the help you can get to make it through the chilly months without a respiratory complication.
Luckily, getting your annual flu shot will go far to keeping you in better health (despite what you may have heard, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot). Also, be sure to get vaccinated for pneumonia, and be diligent about your handwashing and hygiene to sidestep common colds and other infections.
The darker, shorter days of winter are difficult to handle at the best of times; when you also have COPD, they can exacerbate your fatigue, anxiety, and feelings of isolation. Take some of that psychological pressure off with a special light that can lift your mood and boost your energy.
Ask your doctor about using a light therapy box, which contains special fluorescent lights to spark a chemical change in your brain that will elevate your mood. The happier and more energized you are, the better your chances of staying on top of your COPD management and in charge of your health.
Prepare for Winter Weather Emergencies
Your preparations for dealing with cold weather will vary depending on where you live. Those who live in areas which experience heavy snow will prepare differently to those who don’t experience snow at all. Some areas have very wet winters while others are dry.
When planning for cold weather its best to plan for the worst and hope for the best. Ensure you have adequate stocks of your medications just in case you become housebound. If you are on supplementary oxygen, make sure you have adequate supplies, as well as fully charged batteries in case of a power outage.
It’s important to check on your food and heating supplies for the same reason. If you haven’t done so already, ensure your heating is functioning correctly, keeping warm on those cold nights are very important for COPD patients.
The Bottom Line…
Whether you are a newly diagnosed patient or a veteran, going through winter can be daunting. Writing a list as you make your preparations can be helpful in a couple of ways. You can tick your list off to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. You can also revise your list after winter and add ideas which will make next year’s winter preparations less stressful.
No matter how vigilant you are everyone will succumb to an exacerbation at some time. Being prepared and having a plan to deal with the exacerbation can often be the difference in the severity and length of time of the exacerbation. Remember, preparation, stick to your plan and above all don’t panic.