Winter weather and travel often don’t go well together. For anyone with COPD, frigid air, snow, and ice pose significant challenges.
Since many people traditionally travel during the holidays, both locally and for long distances, we’ll provide a few tips to make your winter weather journey safer and more pleasant.
Cold Weather Safety Precautions
Cold air makes breathing more difficult. If you have COPD, you should pay special attention to regulating your temperature, especially when you’re outside. Try dressing in layers so that if you become too warm or too cold you can remove or add a layer as necessary. Keep an eye on weather predictions of cold temperatures and wind chill levels.
Exacerbations (COPD attacks) and hospitalizations increase during winter months. The following suggestions can help prevent exacerbations and make breathing easier.
Winter months bring drier air both indoors and outside. That is why you should try to keep indoor relative humidity levels at 40% or above. When outside, you can try covering your nose and mouth with a thick scarf or a CT mask. CT masks are designed to help persons with COPD or asthma to breathe warm, moist air while outside. (Caution: A CT mask will not protect you from COVID-19.)
For important information about face coverings in public situations because of COVID-19, please see the joint Statement on Importance of Patients with Chronic Lung Disease Wearing Facial Coverings.
During winter, it is especially important to pay attention to air quality. Try to avoid spending time outdoors when air quality is rated poor. Even “moderate” air quality can make breathing difficult for persons with COPD or asthma.
Indoor air quality often becomes worse during winter. Allergens and pollutants can increase inside because clothes dryers and other appliances are run more frequently. Putting up and taking down holiday decorations can increase levels of dust and mold. Changing air filters on furnaces and cleaning more often can help.
If you use supplemental oxygen, make sure to insulate your oxygen tank and tubing against cold weather. If the tank and tubing get too cold, your breathing can become much more difficult.
Finally, consider taking precautions to prepare for winter storms or for days when you cannot get out.
- Stockpile an extra supply of any medications that you take.
- Arrange for battery or other alternative power supply to operate supplemental oxygen equipment or stationary nebulizers.
- If you use a propane or gas heater in case of a power outage, make sure that it operates well and is well ventilated. Install a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector as a precaution.
- Have a family and friends communication plan in place.
Winter Travel Tips
Since winter weather can pose unexpected hazards, it is best to plan carefully before setting out. Even driving short distances to the grocery store or pharmacy can be difficult. Longer distances by car or air can add their own challenges.
Obviously, we should all avoid traveling during really bad weather. But if you must go out to get food or medicine, try to have someone else do the driving. Even then, be sure to have your emergency inhaler or portable nebulizer and medication with you.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, most travel is restricted or subject to extreme caution. But if you must travel, try to avoid large gatherings to minimize risk of catching the flu and other common illnesses. (You might try going to the grocery store or pharmacy at odd hours.)
If you are flying or driving long distances, be sure to have a good supply of all your medications with you. During the winter, long flight delays or cancelations are more frequent. Long highway trips can encounter massive traffic jams resulting in delays of several hours.
In addition to sufficient medications and equipment, include an extra written prescription for all medications in case your supply gets lost or runs out. Also include your insurance card and contact information for your health care provider.
Winter weather need not prevent you from getting outside to get some exercise or to run errands. Just be sure that you’re prepared for what the colder weather can throw at you.
Remember, when the weather becomes too nasty or you don’t feel like putting up with the hassle, it’s okay to say no, stay inside, or postpone your travel.
American College of Chest Physicians, American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, and COPD Foundation, Statement on Importance of Patients with Chronic Lung Disease Wearing Facial Coverings.
American Lung Association, Emergencies and Travel in Winter Weather.
American Lung Association, What Goes in an Asthma or COPD Travel Pack?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guide for Preparing for a Winter Storm.
1st Class Medical, guide for Managing Your COPD in the Winter.
LPT Medical, The Complete Guide to Managing Your COPD in Winter.