Don’t Let Chilly Temperatures Freeze You In Your Tracks!
I may be “dating” myself, but I can’t help but think of several holiday song lyrics as I
pen type this post. Lyrics like Baby it’s Cold Outside or Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow, or even I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas. When I hear those songs I think of snow and ice, and cold, crisp air. I picture people sledding and ice skating and drinking hot chocolate (with marshmallows on top!). As a child growing up in Michigan, I remember many times walking outdoors in the winter time, taking a deep breath, and feeling the frigid air penetrating deep into my lungs, almost taking my breath away! That cold air and those cold temperatures may invigorate many people. But, for some of us, unfortunately, that cold air and those freezing temperatures can be harmful to our bodies. We may fear venturing out of our homes when it’s chilly outside, worried that we may experience breathing problems or inviting illness. And, over time, this type of cold-weather avoiding behavior may end up narrowing or limiting our lives. But, friends, it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t Let Chilly Temperatures Freeze You In Your Tracks!
For those of us that may be susceptible to breathing problems such as COPD, chronic bronchitis and asthma, cold air may not be our friend. If you are prone to asthma attacks, you may notice that they occur more often in the winter months.
Cold air can have significant effects on our bodies. In terms of breathing problems, cold air can dry and irritate our airways, causing bronchospasm (which is a contraction of the smooth muscle that surrounds the airway). If this occurs, the size of our airway decreases, thus making it more difficult to get air in and out of our lungs, causing shortness of breath. Bronchospasm adds to our feelings of breathlessness and it may even cause symptoms of wheezing.
At a wind chill of 15 to 30 below zero our exposed skin can get frostbitten in just a matter of minutes, and hypothermia can develop. Symptoms of frostbite include: skin discoloration (gray, white, or yellow), numbness, and a waxy feeling to the skin. Hypothermia (an abnormally low body temperature) symptoms include: shallow breathing, sluggishness, confusion, slurred speech, dizziness, irregular heartbeat and unusual behavior.
Being aware of potential problems when venturing out in the cold weather is important. By following some common-sense tips, cold weather doesn’t have to stop you from enjoying activities or participating in life.
Chilly Temperature Tips
- If you plan to exercise outdoors, warm up indoors first for 15-20 minutes.
- Put on protective gear, such as a scarf or face mask before heading outdoors.
- Layer your clothing. Layers of dry clothing is best. Should your clothing become wet, get indoors to dry off.
- For hand protection, mittens are better than gloves.
- ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth. Breathing air through your nose warms and humidifies the air before it gets to your airway/lungs.
- If you take medications for breathing problems, make sure you take them as prescribed.
- If you are prescribed an inhaler, keep a spare one with you when you are outdoors.
- If you plan to be outdoors for a long period, make sure that friends are aware of any potential breathing problems you may experience…in case they arise.
- Keep yourself well hydrated with plenty of water.
- Protect your feet. Keep socks and feet dry and warm.
- Protect your lips – wear lip balm for dry lips.
- Avoid use of alcohol. Alcohol causes your body to lose heat and may also lead to dehydration.
- If you suspect you may have frostbite or hypothermia, get immediate emergency help. Warm your body, but avoid rubbing tender skin.
- Overall, keep in touch with your body’s signals. Listen to your body…and respond accordingly.
The Cleveland Clinic has an excellent video on the subject of breathing problems in cold weather titled “Breathing In Cold Air And Cold Air Asthma.” For a link to this video, JUST CLICK HERE. Have fun this winter. Be safe. Be wise. And remember…Don’t Let Chilly Temperatures Freeze You In Your Tracks!