All Posts Tagged: winter tips

7 Ways to Tame COPD Flare-Ups in Winter Months

If you’re a COPD sufferer whose symptoms are worse in the winter, you’re not alone. Studies show that the number of patients needing treatment for COPD exacerbations is twice as high in the winter as during the summer.

Why is this so? One reason is that cold weather affects the lungs by causing dramatic changes to the respiratory system. For some individuals, breathing cold, dry air forces their body to produce more shifts in temperature and moisture in the airway because there is a greater volume of air that needs to be warmed and humidified.

No matter the exact cause, the bottom line is that COPD sufferers need to take extra precaution in the winter to avoid serious flare-ups – not the least of which is avoiding the frigid air as much as possible. Here are some strategies:

  • Always Cover Your Nose and Mouth

Covering your nose and mouth while outdoors in the winter is essential if you’re a COPD sufferer. A scarf works well, as does a painter’s mask. At the least, cup your hands and use them to cover your nose and mouth.

  • Get Flu and Pneumonia Shots
    Viruses and infections will make your COPD symptoms worse. Make sure you get a flu shot annually and consult with your physician about getting a pneumonia shot.
  • Wash Your Hands
    Your mother was right – you need to wash your hands! Seriously, a strong defense against germs and COPD symptoms is a high standard of hygiene. Carefully wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. It’s even more important when you’re in public places.
  • Stay hydrated
    Drinking plenty of water will make it easier for you to breathe, especially if you have a respiratory infection.
  • Avoid People Who Are Sick
    It’s sometimes easier said than done, particularly in a workplace (or if you work with and around children), but it’s important to avoid sick people whenever possible. If you do catch a cold or the flu, it’s important to seek treatment as soon as possible.
  • Add Humidity To Your Air
    Keeping your home from becoming too dry during the winter months is also essential if you suffer from COPD. Use a humidifier and clean it every other day to keep it functioning at its optimal level.
  • Avoid Smoke and Fumes
    This is an important strategy at any time of the year, but take extra caution in the winter if you’re heating your home with a fireplace, kerosene, or by other means. Lung irritants such as wood smoke can cause COPD exacerbations.

How to Know That You’re Having a Flare-Up

There are numerous signs that indicate when you’re having a COPD flare-up:

  • Your shortness of breath is suddenly worse and you experience wheezing.
  • You’re coughing more – with or without mucus.
  • If you have mucus, the amount or color may change.
  • You have a fever.
  • You suddenly feel very tired.
  • You become confused or depressed.

No matter what your symptoms are, it’s always important to see your doctor when they get worse. Prevention strategies combined with prompt action will help you stay healthy throughout the winter months.

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Winter Care Tips for Seniors

The winter season presents specific risks and challenges that can be exaggerated for older adults. We value the safety of our patients while they are with us and certainly once they go home. Because of this we believe that it’s important to be prepared for the risks that winter weather can bring. Here are seven safety tips to help mitigate those risks.
  1. Keep warm. Older adults are at a greater risk of developing hypothermia — a dangerous drop in body temperature — during cold weather. Aging lowers one’s ability to withstand longer periods of cold, even from just sitting in a colder than normal room. Certain conditions and medications can also affect a person’s ability to sense cold, making them especially vulnerable. Because of this, older people should keep indoor temps above 65 degrees and look for the warning signs of hypothermia – shivering, cold and pale or ashy skin, abnormal fatigue, sudden confusion, and/or slowed breathing and heart rate. If you notice these symptoms call 911 immediately.
  2. Avoid falls. While falls are a constant concern regardless of weather, seniors need to be especially vigilant in avoiding falls during the winter. Ice, snow, and mobility impeded by cold temperatures can wreak havoc on a normally safe environment. Given the particularly dangerous nature of falls in older adults, it is crucial for individuals and their loved ones to keep steps and walks clear of snow, ice, and other potential fall hazards. Be especially cautious when using canes, walkers, crutches, etc. on snow and ice.
  3. Watch for wintertime depression. It’s not uncommon for older adults to alter their social engagements during the winter months because of the cold and inclement weather. While this seems like a good idea in terms of limiting exposure to winter illnesses and avoiding fall risks, it can actually have a negative impact on one’s mental and emotional well-being. Staying active and finding alternative social outlets is a big factor in avoiding wintertime depression. If you have older family members who are at risk of becoming isolated, make an effort to visit, call, or arrange activities to keep their spirits high.
  4. Eat a varied diet. When it’s cold outside we’re less likely to get the sun exposure that we need for our bodies to produce Vitamin D, and we tend to eat a less varied diet. Eating foods with Vitamin D, like milk, grains, and certain seafood can help with this deficit. You might even talk with your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
  5. Prepare for emergencies. Winter storms can cause a variety of problems including long-lasting power outages and snowed- or iced-in conditions. It is essential to be prepared for such events before they occur. The CDC website has a wealth of information on preparing for extreme cold conditions. They have created a printable document – Extreme Cold Guide – that includes information for what to do before, during, and after a winter storm. Tips include storm preparation, safety checklists, and health information. This guide is a valuable clearinghouse for anyone preparing for winter weather. [1]
  6. Drive safely. While safe driving practices are always paramount, hazards can be exaggerated during inclement weather. It is important to know one’s limits when it comes to operating a vehicle. If you don’t feel comfortable driving in ice and snow, ask a friend or family member for a ride. Another concern on the road is emergency preparedness. Make sure you have supplies in your car to keep you safe in case of a stranding or accident. Warm blankets and clothes, food, a flashlight, and an ice scraper should be standard equipment in the car. Always travel with a cell phone and charger in case you have an emergency. Another way to avoid problems is to have your car winterized by a trusted professional.
  7. Maintain safe heating. It is vitally important to keep heaters, fireplaces, furnaces, etc. in good working order and free of clutter to avoid fires and carbon monoxide leaks. Beyond having these devices checked by a professional, you should have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure the detectors are properly installed on every floor and are in good working condition. Each bedroom and sleeping area should have its own smoke detector. [2]
By following these basic safety tips you and your loved ones can reduce the risk of serious problems this winter. Stay warm and be safe!
Resources:
  1. http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp
  2. http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/fire-and-safety-equipment/smoke-alarms
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