Mr. Kumar has long been suffering from asthma but the winters are especially hard for him to get through. He has to be extra cautious and cannot do without an inhaler for a day.
A blast of cold air in the face as you step outdoors is a quick reminder of the onset of winter. And a deep breath of icy air can be perilous for people with breathing problems. As the temperature drops, the air typically becomes drier due to lack of moisture and results in symptoms, such as wheezing, throat irritation and laboured breathing.
What Aggravates Breathing Problems in Winter?
It all comes back to dry air. Dry, cold air can narrow the airways and irritate the lungs, causing difficulty breathing. Cold air can also disrupt the layer of moisture lining our lower airways by causing it to evaporate faster than normal before it can be replaced. Besides, mucus, the protective layer of the throat, also becomes stickier and thicker than normal in cold weather. This may block the airways and increase one’s chances of catching infections or cold.
Other factors that trigger breathing problems in winter include:
- Smoke and dust particles
- Seasonal allergies
What Are Some of the Common Respiratory Problems in Cold?
The most common types of breathing problems in winter are as follows:
Cold air is a common trigger of asthma and can cause flare-ups. Moreover, flu, cold and other infections tend to be on the rise during winter. These conditions are known to aggravate asthma symptoms in some people.
Inflammation of the respiratory passage allowing air to enter the lungs may lead to bronchitis. Both chronic and acute bronchitis may exhibit symptoms similar to those of cold but are more severe. The common signs include chest congestion, coughing up mucus, shortness of breath and wheezing.
Although pneumonia results from a viral or bacterial infection, the cold weather may have a role to play. Cold air can make an existing cough or respiratory infection like pneumonia worse, causing symptoms like shallow, rapid breathing, shortness of breath and fever.
During winter, COPD patients are more prone to illness. Strong wind and low temperatures negatively affect the lungs while exposure to cold air causes dramatic changes to the respiratory system by narrowing the airways and triggering flare-ups that can increase mucus production, difficulty breathing and coughing. Not only are these flares and exacerbations uncomfortable, but can also be life-threatening.
How to Care for Your Lungs This Winter
Given the propensity of respiratory flare-ups and poor air quality during winters, here are a few measures you should be taking to keep your lungs healthy and going:
- Warm It Up – Dress in warm clothing, especially when stepping out in the cold. Be sure to cover your nose and mouth with a scarf to prevent cold air from entering the lungs.
- Maintain good hygiene and cleanliness – Since pet dander, dust and molds tend to circulate in the air more during winters, make sure you keep your surroundings clean. Don’t forget to wash your hands often before touching the nose or mouth to avoid the risk of infections.
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activities – Strenuous physical activities, such as running or jogging, can leave you exhausted and gasping for air, thus triggering breathing problems. Instead, try performing light exercises at home. Breathing exercises are especially beneficial for improving lung capacity.
- Eat healthy and stay hydrated – A wholesome diet and plenty of water can work wonders for your lungs. Carrots and red bell peppers are known to improve asthma symptoms and boost overall lung health effectively.
- Don’t skip medications – People with respiratory conditions must continue taking medications as prescribed, and keep an inhaler handy during winters.
Living with asthma, COPD or chronic bronchitis can be particularly challenging in winter. If you experience wheezing and coughing, fatigue, and breathing problem symptoms, seek medical help immediately.