How Weather Can Affect Your COPD

How Weather Can Affect Your COPD

Weather and temperature changes can trigger COPD symptoms. Here’s what you can do.

By Krisha McCoy

Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

Weather changes are one of many factors that can trigger your COPD symptoms. Symptoms of COPD, which include shortness of breath, cough, and phlegm production, tend to get worse for some COPD patients when the air is very cold and when it is hot and humid.

“Weather extremes are not good,” says Barry Make, MD, co-director of the COPD program at National Jewish Health and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. Dr. Make says that he has noticed that temperatures below freezing or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit tend to cause COPD symptoms to flare up.

COPD and Weather: When It’s Cold and Windy
Cold air and strong winds are known to be triggers for the worsening of COPD symptoms. “If [COPD patients] go out [when] it is windy and they have to walk against the wind, there is more resistance, and that can be a problem,” says Make. And frigid temperatures can fatigue COPD patients. “COPD patients just feel like they are more tired after they’ve been in the cold,” he says.

If cold and windy climates bother you, try loosely wearing a scarf or face mask over your nose and mouth, and breathe through your nose on wintry days. The scarf, or muffler, and breathing through your nose warms the air before it enters your lungs, which can help prevent the worsening of your symptoms.

Dealing With Hot, Humid Air
While there are a few people whose COPD symptoms improve in humid weather, most people’s symptoms flare up on days of high heat, humidity, or smog. This can especially be an issue when a front moves in, bringing humidity, says Make. “A lot of people with COPD tell you that they know when a front is going to come through,” he says.

So on the hottest and most humid days of the year, stay indoors in an air-conditioned environment to prevent a flare-up of your symptoms. “If it is a high-pollution day, we suggest [that our COPD patients] stay inside and limit their activities,” notes Make. “If it is really hot or really cold, we would say the same.”

Should You Move?
Seasonal exacerbations of COPD symptoms can be so bad that people will move across the country in an effort to deal with the problem. “One of the most common questions we get [from COPD patients] is what part of the country [is best] to live in because of the weather,” says Make.

He says that in the past, physicians commonly recommended moving to the western United States, where the air is less humid. But he says that it is now known that the COPD-weather connection is very individualized, and that what works for one person might not work for the next. “It is variable from person to person,” says Make. “Some people prefer more humidity and some less.”

It is usually not necessary to move when you have COPD, but if you live in a climate with extreme weather changes and moving is an option for you, talk with your doctor. Make strongly recommends a trial run before you relocate.

“If people are going to think about moving somewhere for the weather,” he says, “be there for all of the seasons of the year.” That way you will know if the move will provide year-round improvement of your symptoms.

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