Why the weather makes you breathless – and how to protect your lungs this winter
- Why I’m a running joke in the People’s Doctor office
- But winter cold isn’t a joke if you get breathless – scroll down to find out why…
- Here’s what NEVER to do if you get these breathing symptoms….
There’s a joke in the office that I THINK about other people’s health a lot more than I DO anything about my own health.
I assume they mean I’m an out-of-shape health newsletter editor in his 40s.
I’ll admit, I spend too much time sat in the office or in my study at home, poring over health reports, reading books and writing articles.
But when I was younger, believe it or not, I was an avid runner. You couldn’t keep me indoors.
And one of the things I noticed, even in my youth, was how seriously cold weather was a nightmare for my lungs when I ran.
US Triathlete and doctor Cathy Koger explains why:
“Cold, dry air and increases in minute ventilation are both stimuli for bronchoconstriction, which manifests with shortness of breath, chest tightness and a cough,”
So why should you care?
I suspect you’re not a top athlete who needs to worry about peak performance. (But if you are, good on you!)
But answer me this…
Do you ever get breathless?
Do you struggle with tasks like walking upstairs or going down to the shops?
Do you have asthma or get wheezy if you do mild exercise?
Do you find you get colds and coughs easily every winter, then find them hard to shake?
If you have any of these symptoms, then beware that winter will have an effect on your ability to breathe comfortably, with potentially devastating consequences.
It’s important that you protect yourself by taking positive action today.
I mean this – it’s no joke. This is so, so, important, especially as you get older.
First, here’s what NOT to do.
If you struggle to breathe, or find breathing uncomfortable, don’t ignore it.
So many people get these symptoms, but feel embarrassed or unwilling to confront it, so they simply change their habits. They stop walking. They slow down. They give up hobbies that make them wheezy.
All you’re doing here is hiding a potentially life threatening problem. It won’t make things better.
The key is to first speak to medical professional and get any underlying problems checked out. That could include asthma, heart conditions and other issues. I know that’s hard to hear, but if it does turn out to be one of these problems, knowledge is power.
You might find they call your condition “dyspnoea” which means acute or short-term breathlessness. That’s something you’ll need to work on with a professional.
But you might also find that you have chronic breathlessness. This is more subtle, gradual and something less likely to be dealt with by health professionals.
It could be something that mainly flares up in the winter, particularly during exercise like walking or gardening.
If the doctor isn’t helping, you can deal with this by taking some of the measures into your own hands. Certainly, these will do no harm and they could significantly help keep your lungs as clear and healthy as possible.
First, the obvious measure you can take when it gets colder… stay warm.
The secret of 21 degrees
Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation says: “Many of the ways in which people with lung disease can avoid a worsening of their condition are common sense: wearing more layers and warmer clothing, even at night, and keeping the home well-ventilated but warm – around 21 degrees in the living room, around 18 in the bedroom.”
If you breathe through your nose instead of your mouth you will warm the air before it reaches your lungs. And you can also protect yourself by wearing a scarf that covers your nose and mouth.
You can also try these natural herbal remedies…
- Lungwort – believe it or not, this actually looks like lung tissue. Which sounds very unappealing, but it’s long been used to help clear congestion and keep the tubes clear, thanks to its special blend of compounds.
- Eucalyptus – this one’s famous for easy breathing, as it appears in many over-the-counter medicines for colds and coughs. But there’s good reason, as it contains something called cineole, which is an expectorant which can also soothe irritated sinus passages.
- Oregano – not just for your pizza or bolognaise sauce, this powerful herb is packed with carvacrol and rosmarinic acid, which are decongestants that also reduce histamine, easing your respiratory tract and nasal passages. Rather than the leafy herb, find the oil.
- Peppermint – another classic, but it works. When I was young my parents used to place a towel over my head and make me breathe the fumes from peppermint oil dropped into steaming hot water. The menthol relaxes the muscles of you respiratory tract and works as a decongestant. You can also rub it on your chest every morning in winter as a protective balm.
- Liquorice Root – a traditional Chinese remedy for lung infections, coughs and colds that soothes the mucous membranes and reduces inflammation.
- Thyme – this is a herbs you associate with delicious hearty sauces, soups and casseroles, but in fact is a historical remedy for breathlessness, coughs and bacterial pneumonia. It’s antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal.
- Sage – another of those herbs many of us use every day in cooking, particularly if we’re partial to roast pork, this can be made into a wonderful tea to ease your respiratory system.
All of the above are highly recommended if you have a cold or infection, but our advice at People’s Doctor is to consider these as protective measures this winter if you’re susceptible to breathing problems.
If you’re interested in more protection from the cold… for instance if you have bad circulation or Raynaud’s, then you absolutely must look out for the next issue.
Until then, stay health and warm.
Editor, The People’s Doctor