Fall and Winter Advice for Respiratory Patients

Stay Healthy!! Keeping healthy is more important than ever for patients with chronic lung diseases. Some common-sense rules prevail in maintaining virus- or infection-free health—washing your hands often, sanitizing between washes, quitting smoking, caring for your teeth and gums, avoiding germs, and considering vaccinations like flu shots. But there are even more considerations you may not have thought of with regard to staying healthy.


Your lungs require a great deal of moisture—100% relative humidity—to keep their cleansing systems working, and to keep you free from infection. Your nose provides a great deal of this moisture to incoming air, but in the drier air of wintertime, it is more of a challenge. Dry air can be harmful to anyone. For people suffering from chronic lung problems, it can cause serious and lengthy respiratory infections.

To stay healthier during dry winter months, try these tips:

  • Drink plenty of liquids — water, juices, and more water! Check with your physician to determine your optimum goal. Drinking most liquids before your evening meal should minimize interruptions during the night.
  • Add humidity to your air with humidifying devices. Be sure to keep your systems clean and germ-free. Cleaning your humidifier will depend upon the type of humidification system you have; be sure to check your instructions to ensure optimum working condition.
  • Cold Air. When outside, breathe through your nose—it will help warm the inspired air. On cold days, wrap a scarf around your face; it will help warm the cold air before it reaches your nose. Also, when you first step outside, stop and breathe a few short breaths before proceeding—this may save you a few coughing spells.
  • Avoid Colds. If others have colds, try to avoid them. Their germs are airborne. If they must be near you, they should wear a surgical face mask (available from drug stores). Be sure to avoid using their plates or utensils. Also, try to avoid crowds when possible since there are always cold germs where there are groups of people.
  • Keep Your Nose Clean. Blow your nose as often as necessary. Your nose works overtime in the winter months, trapping dust and germs. It’s always a good idea to use fresh, disposable tissues so you can dispose of them afterward.
  • Keep Active. Exercise is important year-round! If the weather gets too bad to exercise outside, walk around the house and climb stairs. Try to do as much as you would if you were outdoors. Consider investing in home exercise equipment to keep your exercise regimen going during the wintertime. Consult your physician before starting a new exercise program.
  • Avoid Dust. The dryness of winter weather can bring a great deal of dust into your life. Follow these tips to minimize dust:
    1. If you have a central heating system, replace the air filters before turning your system on for the season.
    2. Dust frequently with a dusting agent that keeps the dust on the cloth. Wash or dry-clean your drapes and curtains. Vacuum or dust behind radiators. Don’t forget to change your vacuum cleaner bags and filters regularly.
  • Keep a Healthy Weight. During winter months, try to stay at or a little below your ideal weight. Since eating and digesting food can be exhausting, it’s better to eat 5-6 small meals a day than three large meals.
  • Consider a Flu Shot. It is recommended that many respiratory patients get an influenza vaccine in the fall—before the flu season begins. Ask your physician about getting a flu shot. Be sure to get plenty of rest in the days prior to the vaccination.
  • Stay away from smokers. Be aware that smoke from someone else’s cigarette can be irritating and as harmful to you as if you were smoking. Ask your friends not to smoke—or at least to smoke away from you, outside or in another room.

When to Call Your Doctor

It’s sometimes difficult to make that call. Whenever you’re unsure, consider these tips about when to call your doctor:

  • When there is an unusual increase or decrease in phlegm production
  • When there is an unusual increase in thickness or stickiness of phlegm
  • When phlegm is a new color or tinged with blood
  • When you feel an increase or severity of breathlessness
  • When there is a pain in the chest, fever, ankle swelling, extreme fatigue or unusual drowsiness
  • When there is a need for more pillows in order to sleep comfortably
  • When there is an unaccountable increase or decrease in weight
  • When there is increased fatigue and lack of energy
  • When there are complaints of frequent morning headaches, dizzy spells, loss of libido and insomnia
  • When there is a development of confusion, disorientation, slurring of the speech, or sleepiness