Tips on Managing Common Pulmonary Illnesses in Cold Weather

As wintertime approaches, those with chronic pulmonary illnesses must be cautious about going outdoors in the below-freezing temperatures. Cold weather, especially cold air, can significantly affect your lungs and trigger a worsening of your lung illness symptoms.

Cold air is typically dry air and dry air can irritate the airways of those with asthma, COPD, and other common lung illnesses. This irritation can lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In this article, we explain how you can protect your lungs and handle common pulmonary illnesses in cold weather.


Cold weather can worsen asthma symptoms which includes the inflation of airways and difficulty breathing. For those with asthma, breathing in cold, dry air can lead to airways tightening and drying out. This can cause airways to spasm, which can trigger a cold-induced asthma cough or even an asthma attack. Prolonged physical activity in cold weather is a common culprit for cold-induced asthma attacks.

How to Prevent & Manage

  • Always bring your inhaler with you, especially when you are outdoors
  • Warm up indoors before doing physical activity outdoors
  • Use a short-acting inhaler a few minutes before going outdoors
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf or cold weather mask
  • Try to breathe through your nose rather than through your mouth
  • Avoid going outdoors if temperatures are 10°F or lower
  • Quickly get to a warmer environment if you are experiencing an asthma attack
  • Take several minutes to breath in warmer air
  • Talk to your doctor if your symptoms are triggered regularly for a new prescription


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is another one of the common pulmonary illnesses in cold weather. Studies have shown below freezing temperatures (32°F and lower) trigger COPD flare-ups.1 People with COPD also face high rates of hospitalization and increased mortality during the cold weather seasons.2

COPD and cold weather can trigger an increase in symptoms like shortness of breath (dyspnea), wheezing, coughing, shallow breathing, increased mucus production, and difficulty clearing up airways. The overall narrowing of airways caused by cold air can be dangerous, restricting blood flow and oxygen to the body and heart.

How to Prevent & Manage

  • Always bring your rescue inhaler with you and take a dose before going outdoors
  • Don’t risk strenuous physical activity outdoors, exercise indoors
  • Avoid wood burning stoves and fireplaces, noxious particles cause irritation of airways
  • Wear a scarf or cold weather mask to cover your nose or mouth
  • Try to breathe through your nose rather than through your mouth
  • Keep your oxygen hose under your coat to keep the air warm
  • Maintain 40% humidity indoors with a humidifier
  • Consider staying at a more temperate climate during the harsh winter months


Additional Reading

Cold Weather Tips for Oxygen Concentrators

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  1. Marno et al., European Respiratory Review – How different measures of cold weather affect chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) hospital admissions in London
  2. McCormack et al., European Respiratory Journal – Colder temperature is associated with increased COPD morbidity


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