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6 Tips from a Small Town Pharmacist to Combat Winter COPD

by Carissa Andrews - November 16 , 2016


Photo Credit: by Carissa Andrews
Photo Credit: by Carissa Andrews

Winter brings about a host of challenges for just about any person. Icy roads, freezing weather, extremely dry houses, wood burning allergies, and an overabundance of colds, coughs, and flus just to name a few. But when you suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), winter can be even more miserable.

What is COPD?

COPD is an umbrella term used to describe chronic lung diseases causing air flow limitations. You may be more familiar with the terms of chronic bronchitis or emphysema, which now fall under the COPD diagnosis. The persistent blockage of air flow caused by COPD is extremely life threatening, if left undiagnosed.

Symptoms of COPD include:

• Chronic cough (not to be confused with “smoker’s cough”)

• Breathlessness

• Abnormal mix of saliva and mucus in airways

In 2012, 3 million people died due to COPD complications, and that number is rising. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that COPD will be the third leading cause of death worldwide by 2030.

Because COPD develops slowly over time, its diagnosis happens mostly in patients over age 40. While there’s no cure to the disease, it can be managed and its effects slowed down.

COPD doesn’t discriminate, either. It affects both men and women equally. However, it’s estimated that 90% of the deaths caused by COPD happen in low-to-middle income countries without effective strategies to manage its effects.

Main Risk Factors of Developing COPD Include:

• Smoking

• Indoor air pollution

• Outdoor air pollution

• Occupational dust and chemical exposure

• Frequent childhood lower respiratory infections

COPD is diagnosed by a utilizing a diagnostic test called spirometry, which tests the airflow quality to a person’s lungs. It measures the quantity of air in each inhalation and exhalation, as well as how fast the air moves in and out.

A Small Town Pharmacist’s Tips

Winter in Minnesota can be pretty harsh—and likely very similar to the Canadian winters. In order to get a better understanding, I reached out to my local pharmacist in Crosslake, Minnesota to see what advice he has to offer COPD patients as winter approaches. Steve Kappes, RPh has been a pharmacist for 21 years, and is also the owner of Crosslake Drug. In fact, October 1st marked the 15-year anniversary of its establishment. Not only do I have complete confidence in Steve’s own knowledge, but he’s also a 2nd generation pharmacist. His father was not only the inspiration for Steve’s career path, but he also comes out of semi-retirement to help out at Crosslake Drug from time to time. Because of this, understanding how to treat people with the proper medications and health-related remedies is not only his job, it runs in his blood.

Here’s what pharmacist Steve had to say about keeping COPD in check this winter:

Tip 1: Quit Smoking

Not only does smoking cause COPD to progress at a faster rate, the inhalation of cigarette smoke in and of itself irritates the lungs. When you combine this with the cold weather and possible other external factors, your symptoms can increase exponentially. Only by quitting can you give your lungs a chance to breathe easier. Not to mention, slowing down the progression of COPD and improving your quality of life. So if lung cancer wasn’t enough of a reason to quit, consider this a very strong #2.

Tip 2: Exercise Indoors

Exercise is important for everyone, including COPD sufferers. Physical activity reduces respiratory issues, improves circulation, and combats many other types of illnesses. However, when the outside temps drop, making it uncomfortable at best to exercise outdoors—the best alternative it to swap to indoors. Not only can temps be regulated, but so can the humidity—both of which need to be at optimal levels to maintain lung capacity.

Tip 3: Avoid Wood Burning Stoves and Outdoor Fires

The reason for avoiding this is two-fold. First, the noxious particles from burning the wood end up in the air, and ultimately irritate your lungs. Second, going in and out of the bitter cold, and into a home with a wood stove or fireplace can exasperate the breathlessness you feel. Forced air heat also has the tendency to dry out the air too much, also making it harder to breathe. Instead, stick with warm radiant heat whenever possible.

Tip 4: Cool Mist Humidifier

Keeping your home at an optimal humidity level throughout winter is a key component to keeping COPD symptoms in check. For COPD sufferers, using a cool mist humidifier and cleaning it daily is the best option. When not cleaned, both warm and cold humidifiers can grow mold and encourage bacterial growth – an added lung irritant you don’t need.

Tip 5: Use Your Inhaler

When weather turns colder, having a rescue inhaler for COPD attacks is crucial. The cold, dry air can mean leaning on it a bit more than usual due to more frequent exacerbations. Stiolto Respimat is a new preventative inhaler for COPD on the market also worth a try. It’s not a rescue inhaler meant for treating a COPD flare-up, such as a Ventolin or albuterol-based inhaler, but instead designed to help long-term. Be sure to use your inhaler as prescribed, as an overdose can have life threatening consequences. When used properly, they have been shown to keep symptoms in check. COPD can come in many stages from mild to severe. Knowing what works best for you is key.

Tip 6: Increase in Daily Maintenance Medications

For example, a patient taking 100 mcg of Dulera twice a day may have to up their dose to 200 mcg twice a day for the duration of winter. It would then be totally acceptable to reduce the dose back down once late spring or summer sets in. Obviously, less medicine is better when possible and likely more cost effective.

If you’re suffering from COPD this winter, take some solace knowing you’re not alone. Hopefully, these tips will help keep you on your feet and out of any hospital situations. Remember, being diligent and aware of your surroundings, and the ways you can manage your COPD is crucial. If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll breeze through the cold winter months.

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Carissa Andrew considers herself a triple threat: write, design and marketing. Her passion lies in mixing these three together with creativity and sass.


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