Coping with cold weather

Cold weather can mean extra challenges for people living with pulmonary fibrosis.

Staying well

You can’t completely avoid picking up colds and flu from others. But you can take reasonable precautions:

  • Children are notorious for spreading infections: be sensible when you are with family and friends. It may seem anti-social but you must put yourself first.
  • Touching items that other people have touched can spread infection: stair handrails or supermarket trolleys could have been touched by hundreds of people!
  • Wash your hands frequently – always wash them after being out and before preparing food.
  • Cough and sneeze into your elbow or the crook of your arm to reduce the spread of germs – or cover your mouth with a tissue.
  • Throw away used tissues as soon as you can and encourage others to do the same.
  • Wash your hands regularly or use a hand sanitiser gel if you’re out and about.

It’s important to act if you pick up an infection and your symptoms get worse despite home treatment or worse than you have experienced before.

If you are struggling to breathe and you are unable to get a GP to see you the same day, call 111 for advice.

If necessary, call 999. Calls won’t always result in a hospital admission, unless this is the best place for you.

Get your jabs

The flu jab is free for people with lung conditions.

You can also ask your GP about inoculations against pneumonia and shingles. A pneumonia jab is recommended if you have a long-term lung condition.

Be prepared in case you get a chest infection

Work out a management plan with your GP or nurse in case you get a chest infection. This will make sure you know who to call and when to act. If your plan involves medications, make sure you have enough, that they have been reviewed, and are still in date.

You may be offered a prescription in advance to get medication quickly if you get chest infection symptoms.

Your medical team may also suggest you keep some medicines at home for an emergency. Make sure you know when to start taking these and tell your GP practice within two days of starting any treatment.

Staying warm at home

Heating your home

Breathing in cold air can increase the risk of respiratory infections. Try to keep your home at a minimum of 18°C (64°F). You may prefer your main living room to be slightly warmer during the day.

Overnight in winter, it’s a good idea to keep your bedroom at 18°C (64°F) and to wear warm nightclothes. Keep your bedroom window closed on a winter’s night. Layer blankets on the bed to trap heat, but make sure they’re easy to remove in case you get too warm.

You may qualify for government help with energy costs.

Keeping your body warm

Hot drinks and hot food are really useful to keep you warm. Eating regularly also helps keep your energy levels up during the winter.

There’s no easier or cheaper way to generate body heat than keeping active. Try walking round the room at every TV advert break, simple chair exercises or exercises learned at pulmonary rehabilitation classes. Avoid sitting still for more than an hour or so at a time.

When it’s cold, layers of clothing trap warm air better than one bulky layer. Thermal underwear can be very useful, along with woollen tights and socks. Have a blanket or shawl to hand as well.

Going out

If you have to go out when it’s bitterly cold or breezy, planning ahead can help you stay warm:

  1. Check the latest weather reports in bad weather. Ensure you have extra warm clothes and a thermos flask with a hot drink.
  2. Don’t feel guilty about postponing an outing if the weather is too bad. There will be other days when you can get to appointments or visits.
  3. Cars that have been standing outside can get very cold. Ask someone to preheat the car before you get in. If possible, keep your car in a garage.
  4. Layer your clothing to trap heat, focusing on head, hands and feet. You may want to put a scarf across your nose and mouth to stop the sudden impact of the cold and lock in the warm air you are breathing out.
  5. Look after your oxygen. Try to keep oxygen cannulas tucked inside your clothes to prevent stiffening or splitting. If possible, keep a spare with you.
  6. Carry your reliever medication with you. Cold air can tighten your airways making it harder for you to breathe. Try using your reliever inhaler half an hour before going outside.
  7. Try a slow drink of lukewarm water. A glass of warm water when returning indoors can help to reduce the burning sensation of the lungs after exposure to the cold.
  8. Think about what is right for you. That could be staying at home, calling family or friends for help or dialling 999.

Information provided by Action for Pulmonary Fibrosis (APF) is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It’s intended as general information only. APF is not responsible for any errors or omissions or for any loss or damage suffered by users resulting from the information published on

Further information for carers:

Your essential caring guide (PDF)
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