Protecting Lung Health from the Cold of Winter

No one can deny that it has been a cold winter for Coloradans as well as everyone in the U.S. this year. Cold temperatures usually are accompanied by drier conditions that are harsh to breathe into our lungs, and can be difficult for everyone in the senior community. Cold weather is a trigger for most people with lung disease, and can cause bronchial spasms in the lung airways making it hard to breathe. For individuals with lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), symptoms of shortness of breath, and wheezing can develop when exposed to cold weather, and if not addressed could turn into a full blown flare up.

While many of us try to avoid the chillier days by hibernating in our homes, there are some precautions you can take to minimize these effects when venturing outdoors on the very cold days. Your nose and sinuses warm and humidify the air that enters our lungs much more effectively than breathing through your mouth, so it is a good idea to breathe through your nose and out through your mouth when you are outside exposed to the cold temperatures. Try to minimize the amount of time exposed to this kind of weather. However, when you go outside in cold temperatures it is recommended to bundle up and wear a scarf over your face. This will help you to breathe more warm humid air and ultimately aid in protecting you from the harsh cold winds, offering some defense from the elements.

If you use a bronchodilator for your lung disease, pretreat with this medication a half hour prior to going out in the cold to protect your lungs from the bronchospasm that could develop. In addition, make certain you have received a flu shot to protect yourself from the flu outbreaks that tend to follow the cold dry weather.

Another factor to consider when deciding to go outside, in addition to the cold weather, is understanding the air quality in your area. Air pollution is particularly dangerous for people with lung disease, anyone over 65, and anyone who has diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Planning your trips outside on days with the best air quality, regardless of temperature, can help to avoid unnecessary exposure to unhealthy air. Information concerning daily air quality reports can be accessed at http:// With proper planning, and taking appropriate precautions, we can all keep healthy lungs and survive the cold of winter!

For more information on lung health, call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-548-8252) to speak to someone directly, or submit a question online. We’re here to answer your lung health questions!
Breathing Matters is presented by the Colorado Lung Health Connection

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