The Challenges of Winter When You Have COPD

Mar 01, 2023
The Challenges of Winter When You Have COPD
As a patient with COPD, you’re likely developing some new routines. The winter season brings its own challenges. Learn what to watch for and steps to take to minimize risk of a COPD flare-up.

Have you recently been diagnosed with COPD? If so, you’re learning some dos and don’ts of living with this illness. 

Winter is here, and that means it’s cold and flu season. It’s important for you to know that as a COPD patient, you’re at higher risk of flare-ups and hospitalizations during the winter, so certain precautions are in order. 

Dr. Amos Ladouceur, board-certified family medicine physician with Weekend Urgent Care, helps you manage your COPD. Our urgent care practice is especially geared to management of chronic illness. We’re available if you have a sudden flare-up, unlike other medical practices with only 9-to-5 office hours.

Following are challenges to watch for during the winter months as a patient living with COPD. 

Minor illnesses can trigger severe COPD symptoms

Winter is traditionally the season with the highest rates of colds, flu, and other respiratory infections. As a patient with COPD, you want to avoid minor illnesses like colds and other viruses and bacterial infections. They can turn into a major respiratory infection called a COPD exacerbation. An exacerbation can produce permanent lung damage, making your COPD worse for the rest of your life. 

You can take proactive steps to guard against winter illnesses. Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer when you’re out, avoid people who are ill, and strive for healthy immunity by exercising regularly and maintaining a normal weight. We may recommend that you get a vaccine to help prevent bacterial pneumonia.

Cold air

If you’re a new COPD patient, you may not have realized that cold air can make it hard for you to breathe. Cold air can limit your lungs’ ability to function properly. Your airway narrows as you breathe in cold air. The air can even harm the lining in your throat.

When you’re exposed to the cold, your lungs have to work harder, placing extra demands on your respiratory system. To combat the cold, look ahead to what the weather is going to bring so you’re prepared. When you go out, make sure you’re dressed warmly head to toe. Consider a cold-air face mask or at minimum a warm scarf wrapped around your nose and mouth.

Plan indoor activities during cold snaps. Make sure your furnace is in good condition to get you through the winter safely. Have your inhaler nearby in case you need it.

Power outages

What if there’s a power outage? A major storm can wreak havoc to the power grid. If you use oxygen, have a plan in place in case you lose power. 

Coordinate with your oxygen supplier so that you have compressed air oxygen tanks to get you through a blackout. Be sure you have extra charged batteries available for your portable oxygen concentrator if you have one.

Keep extra charged cell phone batteries in your home so you have phone service. Ask your power company to prioritize you for power restoration.

Outdoor and Indoor air pollution

As a COPD patient, you want to minimize your exposure to outdoor and indoor air pollution; it can inflame your lungs and cause symptoms to worsen. Monitor air quality in your area just like you monitor the weather. Stay indoors if air quality is poor.

Take some simple steps to reduce air pollution in your home. If you’ve been using a wood-burning fireplace for warmth, it’s time to replace it with a gas fireplace. 

Investing in a high-quality air purifier for your home can help make your winter easier. If that’s not possible, use portable HEPA air filters in rooms you use the most. 

Always use the fan on your stove to remove fumes from your kitchen when you’re cooking. Use natural fragrance-free cleaning products instead of harsh products filled with chemicals that produce fumes. Choose paints and other materials for your home with low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  

Being aware of winter challenges helps you to prepare for them. Taking proactive steps helps keep you healthy. 

Call Weekend Urgent Care today if you have a time-sensitive problem, or book an appointment online. We’re your healthcare partner.