COPD & the Seasons - ADVANCE for Respiratory Care and Sleep
By Tamer Abouras
COPD & the
WITH EVERY seasonal change, those with chronic respiratory illnesses such as COPD or those prone to seasonal infections have to
brace themselves not only for climate changes but also allergens, pollutants and irritants in the air.
If you have COPD, this handout can help you identify triggers and
minimize symptoms, no matter the weather.
Spring, Summer and Warm Weather
Symptoms of COPD can be worsened with high temperatures and
humidity, in part because they are associated with elevated levels of
smog in the air.
Additionally, high temperatures can cause dyspnea, or shortness
of breath, and the body can become exhausted as it exerts itself
more to breathe and regulate its temperature. In the heat, airways
may also constrict and cause potential bronchospasms, or sudden
constriction of the muscles around your airways. Humidity can lead
to shortness of breath since humid air contain both more moisture
and less oxygen, and is therefore more dense and harder to breathe.
Seasonal allergens can be an added strain on those living with
COPD. Some commonly inhaled outdoor allergens that can cause
difficulty breathing are:
• Weed pollen
• Mold spores
Any allergen or substance capable of causing an allergic reaction in
someone with COPD carries the possibility of worsening the chronic
condition. This is because the exposure to the substance will tend to
narrow airways and increase mucus production, which both contribute to difficulty breathing.
Autumn, Winter and the Cold
The winter months are typically a concern for anyone prone to respiratory ailments, and the worry is no different for those with COPD, in
spite of the relative lack of outdoor allergens.
There are numerous indoor allergens which can be every bit as irritating to the lungs which include, but are not limited to:
• Dust and dust mites
• Pet dander
• Dirty carpets and rugs
Fragrances and Perfumes
Avoiding exposure to these indoor allergens is essential for keeping
symptoms at bay for people with COPD who are susceptible to them.
The great indoors is not the only area for those with COPD to be
wary of in the colder months, though. Cold temperatures outside
can also affect COPD symptoms, as the chilly air and stronger winds
can worsen symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing and
mucus production. Your care provider may suggest you do your best
to breathe through your noses and cover your faces with scarves to
warm the incoming air before it reaches your lungs.
The most dangerous of concerns for those with COPD during
colder months are infections. They all, to varying degrees, contain
bacteria which cause inflammation within the lungs. These infections can include:
• Respiratory syncytial virus
Preventative measures taken during cold and flu season are of extra
importance to those with COPD, as washing your hands and avoiding
contact with sick populations in places such as malls, airports/airplanes,
and schools can be very helpful in reducing the chances for infections.
Likewise, staying up-to-date on vaccinations can improve your protection against flu, influenza and pneumonia during the colder months.
There are many symptoms of COPD to watch for throughout the
year. These may be a sign of a comorbid infection or illness:
• Worsening of a stable condition
• Increased difficulty breathing
• Increased wheezing, coughing, mucus production
• Change in the appearance of mucus
• Chest tightness
• Irritability or change in personality
• Fluid retention
Forgetfulness, confusion, slurring of speech, and sleepiness
Being mindful of these can help to keep your seasonal COPD complications to a minimum. ■
Information for this handout was provided by COPD Digest, University of Maryland Medical Center, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of
America, Healthline, Everyday Health, and the International Journal
of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Tamer Abouras is a former staff member at ADVANCE.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Your doctor, therapist, or sleep technologist has given you this patient education handout to further explain or remind you
about an issue related to your health. It is a general guide only. If you have specific questions, discuss them with your doctor, therapist, or sleep
technologist. Look under the “Handouts” tab at advanceweb.com/respiratory for more educational handouts. ©2014 MERION MATTERS
View and print this and other patient handouts on our web site, www.advanceweb.com/respiratory
Managing COPD throughout the year