Coping With COPD in the Spring
Spring is a welcome time of year for many people. The weather gets warmer, flowers bloom, and the days are longer. Spring usually also means the cold and flu season is winding down, which is good news.
However, if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you might notice an increase in symptoms in the spring.
Why COPD Symptoms May Increase in the Spring
COPD symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, can occur any time of the year. Between the harsh weather and cold and flu season, it might seem like winter is the worst time of year for people with COPD. But spring also brings challenges. Spring may mean increased symptoms for a few reasons.
One of the main reasons symptoms may increase in the spring is allergies. Common spring allergens include tree and grass pollen along with mold. During the spring, trees and flowers send pollen in the air, which is hard to escape. The mold may also grow more as the weather warms up.
Allergies can trigger a flare-up in COPD symptoms. If you have COPD, your airways are already sensitive, and breathing may sometimes be difficult.
Exposure to an allergen can increase mucus and lead to narrowing of the airways, which makes it even more difficult to breathe. According to John Hopkins University, people who have COPD and allergies are at an increased risk of having exacerbations of symptoms that require hospitalization.
In addition to allergies, some people with COPD are sensitive to sudden temperature changes. In the spring, the weather may vary greatly. It could be chilly one day and the next day temperatures might climb. The big swings in temps might trigger a flare-up of symptoms.
5 Tips for Living with COPD in the Spring
Avoiding springtime allergens all season can be difficult. Fortunately, you don’t have to stay inside for the entire spring season. There are certain things you can do to decrease your chances of an increase in COPD symptoms during the spring.
Making even a few changes may help you breathe easier. Consider the following:
Small steps, reasonable expectations, and a healthy mindset are the keys to making New Year's resolutions for people with COPD.
Check the Pollen Count
It’s helpful to check the pollen count in your area to get a sense of how it may affect your breathing. Depending on how high the pollen count is, you may want to make certain adjustments in your day.
For example, on days when the pollen count is especially high, consider staying indoors as much as possible. If you have to go out, pollen counts are typically the highest in the morning and early afternoon between about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. So, plan to go out either in the early morning or late afternoon.
It’s also helpful to keep doors and windows closed on days when the pollen count is high. Use your air conditioner to cool your home. Keep the windows rolled up in your car when you’re driving to keep pollen out.
Carry Your Fast-Acting Inhaler
Since spring allergies can increase COPD symptoms, you may have an increase in chest tightness and wheezing. Be sure to carry your fast-acting bronchodilator with you when you go out. Even if you usually do not use your rescue inhaler, you might find you need it more often in the spring.
Now that the snow has melted, you might have yard work or outside projects to get done. If possible, hire someone to do chores around your home. Between spring allergens in the air and strenuous work, it may exacerbate COPD symptoms.
If you have to do work outside, consider wearing a mask to help filter out pollen. Be sure to break down tasks, pace yourself, and rest when you start to feel short of breath.
Be Careful When Spring Cleaning
Warmer weather also means spring cleaning for some people. If you have COPD, it’s essential to be careful when using cleaning products. Some products can irritate the airways and may increase shortness of breath. Unscented products are best.
See an Allergist
If you experience an increase in symptoms in the spring, talk to your pulmonologist. It may be useful to see an allergist. The first step is to identify your allergens so that you can decrease your exposure. Certain allergy medication may also help control symptoms.
Be sure to let your doctor know what respiratory medication you are taking to avoid unwanted interactions between COPD medications and allergy drugs.
The Bottom Line
The bottom-line is allergies can be annoying for anyone, but for people with COPD, they can be even more debilitating. An increase in respiratory symptoms for those with COPD can become serious quickly. It’s vital to follow your COPD treatment plan and talk with your doctor if you have an increase in symptoms.