Manage Your Lung Health During Cold and Flu Season
As many as 24 million Americans are affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma that cause airflow blockages and breathing problems. While tobacco smoke, air irritants and respiratory infections all cause an exacerbation of symptoms for COPD sufferers, the onset of cold weather and winter illnesses place them at an increased risk for complications.
Fortunately, those with COPD can take steps to keep their symptoms under control this season.Cold Weather Dangers
"COPD makes it more difficult for you to breathe," said Steven Baumgarten, MD, a pulmonologist on staff at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center. "Cold winter air can cause the airway passages in the lungs to narrow, making breathing even harder."
The cold weather months also are peak times for seasonal influenza and other respiratory illnesses, such as chest infections. Common signs of exacerbation-- or a sudden worsening of symptoms--include:
- increased breathlessness;
- change in the color and/or thickness of mucus;
- chest tightness;
"It's important to prevent exacerbations because they can lead to a faster decline in lung function," Dr. Baumgarten said. In addition, frequent exacerbations are associated with poorer health and hospitalization.COPD and H1N1 Flu
"Any respiratory infection, whether it is the flu or a regular cold, can cause a worsening of COPD," explained Dr. Baumgarten. "The best way to approach H1N1 and COPD exacerbation is through prevention, such as practicing good hand hygiene, avoiding close contact with sick people and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth."
Dr. Baumgarten suggests those with COPD get vaccinations for seasonal and H1N1 flu. If you haven't received these vaccinations yet, you can still reap the benefits by getting them now. If flu-like symptoms do occur, seek medical attention immediately.Cold Weather Breathing Tips
Dr. Baumgarten suggests COPD sufferers follow these tips to lower their risk of cold weather-related problems:
- Keep the home warm--between 65 and 70 degrees.
- Watch the local forecast and avoid going out on the coldest days, if possible. Temperatures under 39 degrees may increase the risk of an exacerbation.
- If you do need to go out, bundle up. Wear a face mask or wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth to warm the air you breathe in.
- Ask the doctor if you should use a bronchodilator about 30 minutes before going outside. This may help open constricted airways.
Call the doctor right away if you experience symptoms of a flare-up or develop a fever. Early treatment may prevent your condition from worsening.H1N1 Pocket Primer
Keep everything you need to know about H1N1 influenza, including prevention tips and self-care information, in this handy, FREE pocket pal from Lourdes Health System. Call 1-888-LOURDES (568-7337) to order yours today!