Is cold weather bad for my lungs?
Staying well in the cold could mean fewer asthma attacks, flare ups of your lung condition, or trips to the GP or hospital.
In a recent Asthma + Lung UK survey, 7 in 10 people told us that cold air worsened the symptoms of their lung condition. There are several reasons for this:
- Cold air can cause your airways to narrow. This can increase the amount of mucus you produce and make it harder for you to breathe.
- Cold, dry air can also irritate your airways and worsen symptoms like wheezing, coughing and breathlessness.
- Cold air weakens your immune system too, making it harder for you to fight respiratory infections like colds and flu.
- When the weather is cold, you might spend more time indoors. This can help to spread respiratory infections.
This does not mean you should stop going outside during the winter. Spending time outside is important for your mental health.
You can protect your airways from cold air by warming up the air you’re breathing in. You can do this by:
- breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth
- wearing a mask or loosely wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth when outside.
When going outside in the winter, it might also help to:
- Check the weather before you go out. If you think it might be too cold or windy for you, try to stay inside.
- If you’re worried about going out in cold weather, ask someone to go with you or check in on you.
- Keep your head, hands and feet warm by wearing a hat, gloves, or an extra pair of socks.
- Wear layers of thinner clothing, because a lot of thin layers can keep you warmer than one thick layer. Thermal underwear can be helpful too.
Keep your reliever inhaler with you
If you use a reliever inhaler (usually blue), make sure you keep it with you at all times. Use it as soon as you notice any symptoms. This could help you avoid an asthma attack or flare-up of your lung condition.
Staying warm at home
Cold air can still affect your lungs when you’re inside. Try to heat the rooms you spend a lot of time in to at least 18°C. This might be your living room or your bedroom. Using a thermometer could help you work out what temperature is right for you.
There are also some free and low-cost things you can do to keep warm at home, such as:
- having hot drinks regularly
- using blankets or hot water bottles
- closing your bedroom windows at night
- using draft excluders or blockers to reduce the amount of cold air in a room
- trying not to sit still for more than an hour. You could also stretch your arms and legs to keep you warm
- eating at least one hot meal a day. Eating regularly helps to keep you warm. Find out if you could get help with food costs.
Find out why some types of heating are better for your lungs than others and how you can get help with your heating costs.
Worried about damp and mould?
If your house is damp as well as cold, you are at risk of getting mould.
Living somewhere that is damp or mouldy is not good for your lungs. Babies, small children, older people, people with lung conditions and people with allergies are more likely to be affected by damp and mould.
Mould is a type of fungus that grows in damp places. If you’ve got mould where you live, you’ll notice fuzzy black, white, or green patches on the walls, ceilings, or tiles.
If you think you have damp or mould in your home, it’s important to deal with it quickly. Find out more about how mould affects your lungs or read our advice about reducing your risk of damp and mould.
It might be difficult to stay motivated in winter, but try and stay as active as you can.
If you have a lung condition, physical activity can help to improve your quality of life and help you manage your condition. It will also help you generate body heat and stay warm.
Our exercise handbook and physical activity videos were designed for people with lung conditions. All of the activities can be done indoors, so you can keep active even when it’s cold or wet outside. You could also go to our online chair Zumba sessions.
Reduce your risk
You’re more likely to catch respiratory infections in the winter. This includes:
- common cold
- bronchiolitis and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- chest infections, including pneumonia.
Catching infections like this could worsen your lung condition symptoms. In a recent Asthma + Lung UK survey, almost 3 in 4 people with a lung condition told us that colds and flu make their symptoms worse.
Respiratory infections are highly contagious. If you can, avoid contact with people who have cold or flu symptoms. This can be hard, but it’s important to look after your own health.
There are other simple things you can do to reduce your risk of catching and spreading infections:
- Coughing and sneezing into a tissue. If you do not have a tissue, cover your mouth with the inside of your elbow. This helps to reduce the spread of germs.
- Throwing away used tissues as soon as possible.
- Washing your hands regularly with soap and water. If this is not available, use a hand sanitiser gel.
- Letting fresh air in regularly. Virus particles can build up inside a room, so opening a door or window can help to get rid of virus particles.
- Cleaning the surfaces where you live regularly.
- Getting your winter vaccines.
Be prepared for flu season
Jean, who lives with asthma, explains why she gets her flu vaccine each year.
Take care of yourself
Lots of people find that they feel down in the winter. It’s thought that around two million people in the UK have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). This is why it’s so important to keep taking care of yourself during the colder months.
There are practical things that you can do to try and feel better, like having a good sleep routine, eating well and staying active. Read our advice about managing your mental health to find out more ways to stay well this winter.
Socialising could help you feel better too, so keep seeing your friends and family through winter. If you want to speak to people who understand what you’re going through, you could join our Health Unlocked forum or one of our support groups.
Keep managing your lung condition
We know that some people might find it harder to get an appointment during winter. There is a lot of pressure on the NHS at this time of year. Some GP surgeries and pharmacies also change their opening hours over the festive season.
This is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead:
- Check your pharmacy’s opening times. Find your nearest pharmacy in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales.
- Check your GP surgery’s opening times. If you need to see your GP, asthma nurse or specialist when they’re closed, you can phone NHS 111 or use 111 online.
- If you have medicines at home, check their use by dates to make sure they’ll last through winter.
- Order and collect any prescription medicines you need before your GP surgery or local pharmacy close for the festive season.
- Register for online services. You might find it easier to book GP appointments and order repeat prescriptions this way.
- Update your self-management plan and keep it with you throughout winter.
Feeling unwell? Act now
If your lung condition symptoms get worse, acting quickly could stop you from having an asthma attack or flare-up. Make an urgent appointment with your GP or asthma nurse. Tell them your symptoms are getting worse and you’re worried you might have an asthma attack or flare-up.
Managing your asthma
It’s important to keep managing your asthma well in the cold:
- Always keep your reliever inhaler (usually blue) with you, so you can use it for quick relief when you get symptoms.
- Check your inhaler technique. Our short videos show you how to use your inhaler properly to manage your asthma symptoms.
- Use an asthma action plan or a MART asthma action plan, so that you know exactly what to do if your symptoms start.
- Take your preventer medicines every day as prescribed, even if you feel well.
- Read more about the different things that could trigger your asthma in the winter.
Managing your lung condition
You might find a self-management plan useful. They include information about what to do and who to contact if your lung condition symptoms get worse. We have a COPD self-management plan and a pulmonary fibrosis self-management plan available for free.
If you have a lung condition like COPD or bronchiectasis, your healthcare professional might also suggest that you keep some medicines at home for an emergency. These are sometimes called rescue packs. If you’ve been prescribed a rescue pack, make sure you know exactly how to use it.
If you use a reliever inhaler (usually blue), always keep it with you so that you can use it for quick relief when you get symptoms. You can also check your inhaler technique using our short videos. They show you how to use your inhaler properly to manage your lung condition symptoms.