By Dr. Hirenappa Udnur, Pulmonologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Hebbal
Amid fear and uncertainties, Covid 19 pandemic has given us a less polluted environment. The lockdown imposed throughout the country has improved the air quality over the past few months. However, post the relaxation of lockdown, the pollution levels are increasing due to people taking out their vehicles even for a short commute. The fear of spreading infection through the public transport system and walking on the road has forced many to use their vehicles even for small tasks like going to the supermarket or visiting a nearby vegetable store. With winter starting,pollution and Diwali might worsen the situation with increasing COPD problems along with existing COVID 19.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a condition that limits the airflow in and out of the lungs. Certain substances and change in weather can cause COPD problems or can flare up the condition. Cold, windy weather combined with air pollution can worsen the condition. A drop in temperature affects the lungs and prolonged exposure to cold weather further affects the respiratory system.
COPD is an umbrella term for lung diseases that can manifest in the human body without showing any symptoms for many years. The biggest risk factor being smoking. Indoor and outdoor pollution and genetic risk factors alpha, antitrypsin defenses are also responsible for development of COPD. COPD patients can get frequent exacerbation based on severity of lung infection. The condition majorly makes breathing difficult by showing symptoms like shortness of breath and cough in some people. Most people attribute these symptoms to aging ignoring the possibility of lung problems.
How to recognize COPD?
- Shortness of breath especially during physical activities
- Chest tightness
- Persistent cough with phlegm
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Lack of energy
- Unintended weight loss
- Swollen ankles
These symptoms might increasingly get worse over time and make the situation difficult to perform day to day activities.
With COVID 19 posing respiratory-related problems, people suffering from COPD and Asthma are at a higher risk of developing complications during winter. Also, the resumption of construction activities has posed challenges to the environment by increased dust accumulation leading to a drop in air quality. Smog, stubble burning is also adding to the poor air quality. The environment which was cleaning itself and improving during the lockdown is worsening with the relaxation.
It is crucial for people with lung problems to take the necessary precautions during the season.
Managing COPD in winter
· It is advised to cover the face with the mask when you step out during winter. It will also help in avoiding any sort of infection like cold, flu, cough etc
· Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day
· Reduce exposure to any kind of smoke
· Keep your indoors free of dust, pet dander
· Avoid crowded places
Asthma, bronchiectasis, anemia also show similar symptoms of COPD. A simple breathing test is enough to identify the difference. Taking the necessary precautions and timely treatment helps in managing COPD.