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Although Americans are used to the cold that comes during the holidays, this winter might be extreme, as most experts report that many areas of the U.S. are experiencing extreme cold. As a result, there have been disruptions to travel plans. However, the biggest concern with severe weather is its impact on the lungs.

Cold air can irritate the airways

According to Aryan Shiari, M.D., the body keeps the core temperature at about 37°C. For this reason, freezing lungs shouldn’t be a concern unless the whole body is freezing. While your lungs aren’t likely to freeze, the cold air entering your airways can cause irritation and bronchospasms, leading to a feeling of chest tightness. As a result, one may experience a burning sensation or discomfort when breathing. The airways also produce more mucus during winter. As a result, the trachea and bronchi become even narrower, exacerbating breathing difficulties.

Dr. Shiari adds that the body is adept at warming cold air as it enters the airways before gaseous exchange. He explains that air is typically drier before it enters the body; thus, the body has to humidity it. The process could cause irritation which leads to bronchospasms. 

Bronchospasms refer to the constriction of the bronchi, which can result in shortness of breath.

How to protect your lungs in the winter

Extremely cold air is dangerous for everyone. However, people with pulmonary disorders like COPD and asthma respond the worst. For this reason, they need to prepare during winter. Preparation could mean having extra inhalers or backup generators for their medical equipment, like ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

Dr. Shiari also advises people to stay inside during winter storms. She states that if people need to go outside, they should practice inhaling through their noses and exhaling through their mouths. The reason is that the nose is better at humidifying air than the mouth. Moreover, people can wrap their mouths and nose with a scarf while outside. Doing this could trap moisture and heat, thus ensuring the air they breathe is warm and moist.

It is also advisable to avoid strenuous activities during the winter as they could leave you gasping for air, thus triggering breathing problems.