Advice for people with respiratory conditions in winter

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Many patients with respiratory conditions like aspergillosis report increased frequency of chest infections during the winter months, and this is mentioned repeatedly in our Facebook support groups (Public, Private). The cold weather brings problems of many kinds, but respiratory infection is one of the most serious. Infections by bacteria or virus have a major impact on their quality of life as their breathing becomes restricted and often they quickly become too exhausted to carry on with tasks of daily living.

Why does the winter cause increased vulnerability to respiratory infections? Is it because of the cold weather making us weaker and unable to fight off infection? In part – yes it is! Cold air cannot hold moisture as well as warmer air and thus cold air, is drier air. Inhaling dry air tends to dry out our airways and this can make us vulnerable to infection. This has two impacts – it irritates the lining of our airways and makes us cough, which itself increases our risk of infection, but it also dries out the mucous lining our airways and makes it more difficult to move – so we end up coughing much more than normal as we try to cough up this thickened substance.

People with chronic respiratory disease such as COPD, asthma, aspergillosis are particularly vulnerable to dry air as their airways are very sensitive to irritation.

Winter holds all kinds of pressures for the NHS and one of the biggest is a huge increase in people with respiratory conditions whose condition has become worse as a result of the cold weather. This video includes some advice on how to make sure the cold doesn’t affect your condition to prevent you from needing hospital treatment.

Reproduced with thanks, produced by NHS Blackpool CCG 2019

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