Coping with respiratory problems in the colder weather

Well here in the UK summer seems to have come to an abrupt end, with cooler weather and colder, damp air.

If you have a respiratory problem, such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder) or asthma, then the cold air that accompanies the change in season might affect you when you venture outdoors.

Respiratory consultant Dr Mat Jones at Nevill Hall hospital says, “Patients with airway diseases, particularly asthma often have hyper-responsive airways which are susceptible to the cold. In response to cold weather they can bronchoconstrict excessively (excessive bronchial narrowing) which can then trigger an exacerbation of their condition.”

“Patients with chronic lung disease have an increased susceptibility to infections of the lung given the structural changes in their lungs. This, accompanied by the frequency of infective organisms in the community in winter months would explain this trend of cold weather having an adverse effect on the lungs.”

The colder and drier air at this time of year, and even more so in the winter, will have sufferers of asthma and COPD feeling breathless, tight-chested and wheezing and coughing.

Although you may feel like staying in the warm and not venturing out, there are a few things you can do to make you feel more comfortable when you do have to venture outdoors.

Here are five handy tips that the British Lung Foundation suggest to help prevent your respiratory problems from worsening in the cold weather:

  1. Wash your hands regularly to avoid picking up winter bugs.
  2. Wrap up warm when heading outdoors, covering your nose and mouth with a scarf as this will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in.
  3. Keep your home well ventilated – air quality inside the home becomes more important in winter as most of us spend more time indoors. If you have a bronchodilator, use it half an hour before going outside.
  4. Make sure you carry your medication with you at all times as cold air can tighten the airways in lung disease patients making it harder to breathe.
  5. Try to breathe through your nose instead of your mouth as this will help warm the air.

You can also warm-up your breathing muscles with your POWERbreathe. In fact a POWERbreathe inspiratory warm-up is used by athletes to warm-up their breathing muscles prior to competition.

You warm up other muscles prior to exercise, so why not your breathing muscles? Physical activity at a moderate intensity is widely accepted as an acceptable and effective means of warming-up your locomotor muscles so that they’re ready to work at an intense level. But this moderate intensity activity is not enough to warm-up your breathing muscles. This was demonstrated in a study reporting that a rowing warm-up:

“that was similar to the routine adopted in preparing for a rowing race had no effect on inspiratory muscle (IM) strength despite the significant improvement in leg muscle peak torque the rowing warm-up elicited. On the other hand, they found that ventilatory activity applied to inspiratory muscle at moderate intensity could increase the force generation capacity of the muscle (Volianitis et al.2001a). Such specific inspiratory muscle activity (‘‘warm-up’’) in addition to a rowing-specific warm-up protocol was further shown to improve subsequent performance in a 6-min all-out rowing test and the improvement was partly attributed to the reduction in intensity of breathlessness sensation (Volianitis et al. 2001b).”

Your POWERbreathe warm-up is simply performed on a reduced load setting.

POWERbreathe uses the principles of resistance training to exercise your breathing muscles, making them work harder. This exercise in turn makes your breathing muscles stronger and less prone to fatigue. And because POWERbreathe is drug-free, it can be used by those with respiratory problems such as asthma and COPD. Because it has no side effects or drug interactions it can be used alongside your regular respiratory medication.

Chris Mulholland, head of British Lung Foundation Wales, said: “As respiratory conditions are often exacerbated by the cold weather, those with mild, early stage respiratory problems - that would otherwise go unnoticed at any other time of year – may notice an increase in symptoms. If you notice you’re getting more chest problems in the winter, perhaps becoming breathless, wheezy or have a persistent cough, then it could be an early warning sign. It is really worth going to see your doctor at this point because the earlier problems are diagnosed, the earlier they can be treated and managed which will have short and long-term benefits.”

Read more about how POWERbreathe could help relieve your symptoms of asthma and reduce dyspnoea in COPD, or if you’re already using POWERbreathe to help with your respiratory problem then please leave a comment here or on the POWERbreathe Forum, Facebook or Twitter as we’d love to hear from you. You can also read about how POWERbreathe has helped others with breathing problems, including asthma and COPD, in our “I have a breathing problem” blog category.

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