MANAGING COPD & THE WEATHER
Updated: Sep 15
If you suffer from COPD, you’ll know that the weather can have a significant impact on your symptoms – and managing them is not as simple as avoiding hot or cold temperatures.
What is COPD?
COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is the collective name for a group of progressive lung conditions. It includes bronchitis (chronic inflammation of the airways) and emphysema (destruction of the tiny air sacs in the lungs). One of the main causes is smoking, although it’s also possible to develop COPD due to genetics or from chemical or dust exposure.
How is COPD connected to the weather?
Symptoms of COPD, including shortness of breath, coughing and phlegm production, can get worse for COPD patients both when the air is very cold, and when it’s hot and humid. Barry Make MD, co-director of the COPD program at National Jewish Health and Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver, says: “Weather extremes are not good”. He reports that temperatures below 0°C or above 32°C can cause COPD symptoms to flare up.
Cold weather can cause breathing difficulties including shortness of breath, decreased mobility, and chronic fatigue. Cold air and strong winds are common triggers for COPD symptoms, with tasks such as walking against the wind hard work for sufferers. Cold temperatures also cause the blood vessels to narrow, restricting blood flow and oxygen throughout the body. COPD hospital admissions have been found to increase in cold weather, meaning the cold can be a serious danger to those living with COPD.
If you were thinking of packing your suitcase and heading for sunnier climes, we have bad news! Unfortunately, hot weather can cause problems for COPD sufferers, too.
Higher temperatures can cause dehydration and overheating and affect the air quality, all of which can make you feel worse. Dr Make says that many sufferers know when a front is going to come through, as humidity and high heat can cause their COPD symptoms to flare up. The British Lung Foundation says: “High levels of ozone and other air pollutants can cause breathing problems if you have a lung condition like asthma, bronchiectasis or COPD”. And the Lung Health Institute warns that hot air can worsen COPD by promoting airway inflammation, with COPD-related hospital admissions in older adults known to rise during periods of excessive heat.
How to minimise weather-related COPD flare-ups
The British Lung Foundation recommends checking the weather, pollen and pollution forecasts to plan for changes in the weather and understand how they’ll affect your symptoms. This is where the Weather Flare app can help. The app will notify you when weather conditions that affect your COPD are approaching and give you advice on how to minimise your symptoms. You can also look ahead at the weekly and even hourly weather forecasts, so you can plan when to stay home and when to pop out.
When you what’s coming weather-wise, you’re in a much better position to fight flare-ups. Prepare for both weather extremes with these tips.
In cold weather:
Stay indoors and keep warm. If you do need to go out, be sure to wrap up warm.
Wrap a loose scarf or facemask around your nose and mouth. This will warm the air before it reaches your lungs.
Know that if you do go out, the cold is likely to make you feel more tired, so plan to go out when you know you can rest afterwards.
In hot weather:
Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day (usually 11am-3pm), ideally in air-conditioned rooms.
Save exercise and strenuous activities such as cleaning for cooler parts of the day.
Keep windows closed to stop pollen and pollutants getting in.
Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day.
Keep a fan to hand for both indoor and outdoor use.
Some medications, such as Pirfenidone, can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This means you may burn more easily, so keep high-factor sunscreen to hand and apply before going outside.
We can’t control the weather, but we can be prepared for it with Weather Flare.
We’re currently in the beta testing phase of the Weather Flare app. We’re trying to make it as helpful as possible for people with chronic conditions, so we’d love your feedback on what’s working for you and what we could improve. Download the beta Weather Flare app now on iOS and Android to get started!