a man bundled up in winter clothes and an oxygen tank watching his son shovel snow

Snow and COPD

Since my COPD was diagnosed, I miss being able to shovel snow. Honestly. Sounds crazy, I know. But growing up in the Northeast United States, shoveling snow has been a big part of my life.

Shovel first and negotiate later

When I was a kid, we’d walk around the neighborhood spotting sidewalks that hadn’t been shoveled yet. We’d ring the bell, negotiate the price and “dig in!” In some of the swankier neighborhoods, we’d shovel first and negotiate later. Sometimes that would work like a charm and sometimes we’d get a homeowner look out from his door at his newly shoveled walk and driveway and we’d get a “Thanks.” And the door would close.

We’d get $2.00 for a single house and sometimes $5.00 or $10.00 in the more elegant neighborhoods. We’d wear those old “buckle-type” rubber boots that went over your shoes. They weren’t very warm but they kept your feet surprisingly dry.

Blessed with incredible family members

Now, I’m blessed with an incredible son and an even-more incredible wife who, since my COPD diagnosis, have taken over most of my shoveling duties. Still, I can’t just stand or sit around while they’re doing my old job. So, I’ll strap on my backpack with my “D” oxygen tank tucked inside, cannula safely ensconced in my nose, and make an attempt to assist. I don’t usually last too long. Breathing seems to have become particularly difficult in really cold temperatures. But, I’d just feel guilty if I didn’t at least try.

Dry skin and chapped lips

I also need to take some precautions I’ve just read about when the next snowstorm arrives. According to the American Lung Association, “Cold weather, and particularly cold air, can play havoc with your lungs and health.”1 But I think it’s also coming into a warm house from the cold that plays havoc with my breathing. Indoors, air humidity ideally should be at 40 percent. We do this with a small but powerful humidifier. This is particularly critical because of the dryness those of us with COPD encounter during the winter.

I find my skin is more dry than usual during the winter months and even my eyes benefit from moisturizing drops from time to time especially if I’m reading (which I do all the time!). And for some reason, this year, I’ve developed chapped lips for the first time in my life! So, once again, I read up. Chapped lips can be caused by several factors, including weather and sometimes medications.

Lips don’t contain oil glands like other parts of the skin. This means lips are more susceptible to drying out and becoming chapped. Lack of moisture can make the problem worse, whether it’s weather-induced or related to a lack of self-care.2

Helpful interventions

My pulmonologist recommended some interventions that have proven to be very helpful for cold weather breathing and dryness. She says that in cold, windy weather, you should cover your nose and mouth while outdoors. A painter’s mask or scarf works well. I’ve never considered that before but, of course, now I will!

So now, if you want to and can, picture one of the characters from Charlie Brown’s entourage.

If you can see Linus or Schroeder or even the man himself, Charlie Brown, wrapped up in layers upon layers of warm winter clothes with a warm hat on his head and a scarf wrapping his face so that all you can see are the eyes, you have a picture of me as I brave the cold to offer encouragement, at the very least to my family as they shovel, shovel, shovel!

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