Originally Published: December 17, 2011 9:59 p.m.
Many people look forward to the colorful leaves, chilly temperatures and brisk breezes that signal the season change. However, for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the season change may mean increased wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest.
COPD is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Other factors that contribute to COPD are long-term exposure to lung irritants such as air pollution, chemical fumes or dust. How can people with COPD prevent cold air from worsening their condition? Below are some weather-wise tips:
No smoking, please! This is recommended for people with COPD in any season. Cigarette smoking causes COPD to progress at a much faster pace, but combining smoking with cold air will worsen the COPD patient's symptoms.
Bundle up: Cold air is drying and irritating to the airways. Wear protective gear - a loose scarf over the nose and mouth - when the temperature dips and breathe through the nose. This will help warm the air before it enters the lungs, which can keep COPD symptoms from flaring up.
Walk this way: It's best to limit outdoor exposure on chilly days as cold temperatures can fatigue people with COPD. If they do venture out on windy days, people with COPD may want to try walking with the wind to avoid direct exposure.
Where there's fire, there's smoke: A wood-burning stove or fireplace can have both short and long-term health consequences to someone with COPD. The harmful particles can irritate the airways and exacerbate their symptoms.
Get your exercise: Regular exercise is important to COPD patients as it increases their lung capacity. People with COPD who enjoy exercising outside should move indoors when the outside temperature drops. Exercising at home or in a gym is a safe alternative to exercising outdoors. Always check with your doctor before you start any new exercise program.
Use your rescue inhaler as recommended: Some physicians recommend their COPD patients take a preventive dose of their rescue inhalers before going outdoors in cold weather. A rescue inhaler contains medicine that can open up and relax the airways, making it easier for people with COPD to breathe. If you have COPD, ask your doctor for direction on how to use a rescue inhaler during exposure to brisk temperatures.
One of the best ways to learn about managing COPD, asthma, bronchiectasis and other chronic lung conditions is to talk with people facing the same illness. The Better Breathers Club meets regularly in Prescott to do this as well as to learn from experts about healthy living with COPD and other conditions.
The club is for people of any age with chronic lung disease, their family members, friends and other supportive persons. They meet at the Prescott United Methodist Church, 505 W. Gurley St., from 4 to 5 p.m., the third Monday of every month. The cost is free. Sponsors are American Lung Association and Yavapai Regional Medical Center. For more information, call 771-5264.
With effective prevention strategies, people with COPD can breeze into the season change without irritating their symptoms.