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  • 7 Tips for Protecting Your Lungs in the Frigid Temperatures

    Posted by Marta Ribeiro on October 12, 2018 at 3:01 pm

    If you’re an individual living with a lung disease, you’re likely very aware of how the weather can impact your ability to breathe. Typically, patients living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) are impacted by extreme temperatures that often make it difficult to breathe. In the summer months, extreme heat can cause a flare-up or an exacerbation, which can lead to excessive coughing, shortness of breath or chest tightness. Intense summer heat and dryness can also create dust or pollen and airborne pollutants, which can aggravate the lungs as well. For many IPF patients, breathing is difficult and coughing is ever present in many of the hot and humid summer months. Unfortunately the same can be said for extreme cold temperatures.

    Many patients with lung diseases choose to stay inside during the cold weather. However, it is inevitable that there will be a need to brave the cold for things like errands, appointments, social events etc., and when doing so, it is important to protect your lungs from the bitter cold.

    1. Keep oxygen tubing inside clothes: When bundling up to go outside in the extreme cold, it’s important to zip your oxygen tubing up inside your clothes. Having it remain on the outside risks the stiffening of the cannula and oxygen tubing, potentially reducing the flow of oxygen to patients. By keeping it inside your jacket or clothing, it is not as exposed to the elements and won’t harden as quickly.

    2. Pre-heat the vehicle: Whenever possible, have someone pre-heat the vehicle you will be riding in. A warm vehicle will provide a quick reprieve to your lungs after breathing in the bitter cold air, and will help your body warm up more quickly.

    3. Put a scarf over your nose and mouth: Some patients find this suffocating, but as long as the scarf isn’t too tight, it really helps to lock in the warm air you are exhaling. It is important not to do this for too long, but for quick trips in the cold, it is nice to be able to breathe in warm air.

    4. Avoid carrying/transporting items yourself : In sub-zero temperatures, breathing can be difficult for people with healthy lungs, but carrying items can cause excess exertion for those with IPF, which can be dangerous in the extreme cold. Excess exertion can lead to wheezing, dizziness and shortness of breath, so whenever possible have someone else carry or transport items for you in frigid temperatures. This includes having someone else carry or lift your oxygen.

    5. Drinking a glass of warm water when returning indoors: This isn’t a proven tactic, however, patients seem to find it helpful in reducing the burning sensation of the lungs after exposure to the cold. The water shouldn’t be hot, but instead lukewarm or room temperature, and drinking it slowly seems to coat the lungs and reduce the burning or stinging sensation after being outside.

    6. Park car in a garage: This is particularly helpful to avoid having to remove snow off the vehicle, or scrape ice from the windshield. Having to do this increases exposure time to the cold, and contributes to the excess exertion while outside.

    7. Use rescue puffers liberally: Some patients with lung diseases still use various types of puffers, such as inhaled steroids, rescue inhalers or maintenance medication via turbuhalers. Keeping these readily available for use is important at all times, and is particularly important during extreme temperatures such as cold and heat. If a coughing or shortness of breath episode occurs during cold exposure, don’t be afraid to use the rescue inhalers prescribed to you liberally.


    Charlene Marshall replied 5 years, 6 months ago 3 Members · 3 Replies
  • 3 Replies
  • Charlene Marshall

    October 15, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    Thanks for posting this Marta. A good reminder for all of us, as winter looms in the near future for many of us!

    • Joyce Douglas

      October 17, 2018 at 9:19 am

      Thank you Martha for the suggestions.  I know they are affective as I did use some of them last winter.  We live in Manitoba, Canada where it gets to be -30C or -35F and the tubing and cannula can actually harden to the state of being stiff and almost solid – unbendable.  I asked one tubing wearer what would happen if I caught the tubing in the car door and shut the door – she said it would snap like a piece of uncooked spaghetti….so Warning:  Do not do this. Keep it warm. I also carry an extra tube and cannula just in case of an accident.  I keep them in a warm place also so they would be ready to use if I needed them.  It really is crappy that we have to be so super cautious after years of just putting on a coat and boots and going out the door.  Oh well, at least the good thing is we are still ‘able’ to go outside!  We have to be thankful for small things.

      • Charlene Marshall

        October 18, 2018 at 7:31 am

        Hi Joyce,

        I know your reply was to Marta, but just curious: did you see the Almanac for winter in Canada this year? Apparently it is supposed to be exceptionally cold, with Ontario/Quebec temperatures reaching -40 (which is very unusual for us). Brace yourself, winter sure is coming!

        Thanks for reminding us about the cannula freezing, and good idea about keeping a ‘warm’ extra one around just in case, I think I’ll start doing this. In the spring/fall I leave an extra tubing in the car but in the summer/winter months it is far too hot or cold, respectively.

        Take care and thanks again for writing. Stay warm!

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