Physical activity is an important part of a healthy life, even for people with lung disease. Now that the weather has gotten colder it is important to remember some simple facts about exercising in the cold winter air. Heat and moisture loss from the airways of the lungs can be a trigger for bronchoconstriction.
This fact is most important for patients with asthma or COPD. The most common story I hear is from patients that are shoveling snow or doing some type of strenuous activity in the cold. They may experience cough, wheezing, and a tight feeling in the chest. These symptoms may also be noted by patients who are simply walking or jogging in cold air. This can needlessly limit activity. Precautions should be taken if you are one of the people who are affected by cold air.
First of all, if you do not need to be out in the coldest of air, look for another venue for the activity. Many patients will walk at a mall or in a gymnasium or indoor facility during the winter. If you want to be outside, use a scarf to cover your mouth and nose to help warm the air as you walk. Something called a “cold weather mask” can be obtained from most pharmacies and can be helpful. Keep in mind that cold air can also create spasm of the voice box called a laryngospasm. This can mimic bronchospasm and can be prevented in the same way as mentioned above.