5 Tips for Protecting Your Lungs in the Cold Weather

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The leaves are changing color, Halloween decorations are going up, sweater season is here (almost)… soon cold weather will be upon us.

Doctors see more patients in the cold weather seasons for coughs and other respiratory issues than any other season.  There are several explanations for that.

“Although physicians and researchers are still trying to figure out why colds and flu tend to be seasonal, there’s a theory that people spend more time inside in the winter,” said Adnan Majid, MD, Chief of Interventional Pulmonology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “When people are in closer proximity to each other, respiratory viruses can easily spread from person to person.”

Research also shows that cold and dry conditions, such as those found in winter, allow viruses to stay suspended in the air longer than under other conditions. That is because droplets of moisture around them evaporate quickly, making the viruses lightweight. In the summer, on the other hand, heavier droplets fall to the ground, where they are less likely to be inhaled.

So, what are the best ways to protect your airways this fall and winter?  Dr. Majid offers some tips.

  1. Wash your hands often. Germs spread through mucous membranes in our eyes, nose and mouth. So, once viruses are on our hands, and we touch our mouths, eyes or nose, you can almost guarantee a sick day or two from the office or school.
  2. Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf when going outside in the cold. Cold air is often dry air, and can irritate the airways of people with asthmaCOPD or bronchitis. This can cause wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.
  3. Dress warmly and keep yourself dry. It’s not a myth, after all. It turns out getting a chill can actually predispose you to respiratory infection, including pneumonia.
  4. Be careful about wood-burning fireplaces. Although it may seem like a great way to warm up, the smoke and fumes from fireplaces can be irritating to people with asthma, allergies and other lung diseases.
  5. If you have asthma or COPD, always keep your inhaler nearby. As soon as you begin to experience difficulty breathing, stop what you’re doing and use your inhaler as you normally would.

We hope these easy-to-follow tips can help you stay healthy and enjoy the outdoor fun that winter has to offer.