Does cold weather worsen emphysema symptoms? I'm thinking about moving from Florida to Indiana.

Answers from Edward C. Rosenow III, M.D.

It may. Breathing cold, dry air causes narrowing (constriction) of the airways in some people with chronic bronchitis and emphysema. This restricts airflow into and out of the lungs and makes breathing more difficult. But breathing cold air doesn't permanently worsen emphysema. The effects are only temporary, making you short of breath for a brief period. Cold air can also have the same effect on people with asthma.

To reduce the effects of cold air on your breathing:

  • Wear a cold-air face mask when you're outside. You should put the mask on before going out. Cold-air face masks are available at many drugstores and medical supply stores. If you don't have a mask, wear a soft scarf pulled over your nose and mouth.
  • Breathe in through your nose instead of your mouth when you're outside. The large, moist surface area in the nose and sinuses helps warm and humidify the air before it enters your lungs.
  • Use your bronchodilator about 30 minutes before going outside. A bronchodilator helps open constricted airways.
  • Use a home humidifier to moisturize indoor air when it's cold and dry outside.

Before making a permanent move from a warm climate, your doctor may suggest that you spend some time in a cold climate to see how it affects your emphysema.

Feb. 02, 2012