Monday, December 10, 2007

Coping With Winter - A Guide For Those With Chronic Respiratory Conditions

from the American Lung Association

Winter often brings health problems not associated nearly so much with other times of the year. Conditions such as colds, flu, and other respiratory infections are much more prevalent during this time. The person with chronic respiratory conditions finds that he or she is more susceptible and has lowered resistance to these conditions.

Effects of Cold Air
When cold air is inhaled directly into the warm bronchi (breathing passages), spasm occurs. This causes shortness of breath and coughing. All too frequently, people with chronic respiratory conditions breathe through their mouth, preventing the warming and humidification of air which normally takes place in the nose. This presents an added burden to the heart and lungs.

Lessen the Load
*Use an air warming mask or scarf.
*Walk more slowly.
*Allow more time.
*Stay out of the wind, if possible.
*Use a cart for shopping.

Humidity - the amount of moisture in the air
Every home needs added moisture in the winter. The optimal indoor humidity is 40%. Although hard to achieve, it is important to maintain. Many people could avoid nose and throat irritation by maintaining proper humidity.

Homes with circulating air heating systems can attach humidifiers to the furnace. Even these may not produce enough humidification for the entire home.

Another approach is the additional use of small tabletop humidifiers. While sometimes noisy, they produce a water mist which will adequately humidify one or two rooms. However, humidifiers may pose problems because molds and fungi can accumulate in the stagnant water in the reservoir of some models.

All models should be cleaned daily and in those models which use pads or sponges to help moisten the air, the pads should be changed two or three times during the winter. Anti-fungi tablets are sold, but some people may be sensitive to the chemicals they contain.

The use of humidifiers also helps eliminate dust and static electricity.

The best way to add moisture is to drink plenty of water.

Keep Warm Indoors

Dry heat will cause drying of the mucus membranes of the nose, mouth and throat and promotes the development of mucus plugs. These plugs can close off air passages, particularly the tiny ones, and prevent oxygen from getting into the blood.

The optimum room temperature should be between 68 and 72 degrees.

Sometimes we rely on space heaters, wood stoves and kerosene heaters. Wood stoves and kerosene heaters are not recommended for people with lung disease.

It is extremely important to adequately vent space heaters since they can produce toxic fumes.

Keep Warm Outdoors

During the winter, we generally wear much heavier clothing, which in turn increases the burden on the heart and lungs by requiring more oxygen. The person with chronic lung disease does not have this reserve.
*Clothing should be loose to permit circulation of warm air at the surface of the skin.
*Layers of clothing offer more insulation.
*Items of clothing made from the new synthetics are warm and light and are recommended.

Infection - Disease resulting from the presence of certain microorganisms in the body.

Complicating infections are always a problem for the chronic respiratory patient. Changes in color, amount and consistency of sputum may indicate the presence of infection and warrant a call to your physician. Avoidance of crowds and poorly vented areas lessens the chance of the spread of germs. A flu shot annually and a pneumonia shot at least once are most important.

For A More Comfortable Winter
*Use an air-warming mask.
*Choose clothing which is warm but not bulky.
*Use and properly clean your humidifier
*Avoid smoke filled rooms
*Adequately vent space heaters.
*Allow more time to get where you are going
*Seek medical advice at the first sign of an infection
*Get a flu shot
*Avoid crowds to lessen the chance of infections
*Get an adequate amount of rest
*Eat properly