Managing your COPD and Asthma well during the winter months - advice from the HSE in Co Donegal

HSE Media Release: 28th Jan 2021

The winter months bring cold, damp weather.  This can make symptoms worse and make breathing more difficult, for people with COPD and Asthma. However there are things you can do to look after your lungs and reduce the risk of problems arising. The priority at the moment is of course to follow the current guidelines to protect ourselves from COVID-19, on  However you also need to do the necessary tasks to manage your COPD or asthma well during the winter.

HSE Respiratory clinicians have some simple advice to help.You can also watch ‘Masterclass’ videos about self-managing your asthma or COPD at:

1. Monitor Your COPD or asthma
It is important to monitor your respiratory symptoms on a daily basis so you know what is normal for you and you can therefore recognise when symptoms are getting worse.  Things to look for would include:·

  • Increased breathlessness, wheeze or cough
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Fever
  • Change in the volume or colour of sputum
  • Increased use of reliever inhaler or nebuliser
  • Sleep disturbance due to worsening symptoms
  • Unable to continue your usual level of activity or exercise

If you have any of these symptoms or are feeling unwell contact your GP.

Review the management of your condition with your GP or Respiratory team regularly.  They can help you to design an Asthma Action Plan or COPD Self-Management Plan for your individual needs.  These plans can be viewed on: www.asthma.ie2. Know your medicines and medical devices

2. Know your medications

Have an up to date list which you can take with you to medical appointments and if admitted to hospital. Your pharmacist can provide you with a copy of your list of medications or you can download a blank medication list at  

Check that you are using the right medicine the right way including inhalers.  Ask your Pharmacist, Doctor or Respiratory team to check your technique. You can also view videos on using your inhalers correctly on:  If you have been prescribed a reliever inhaler carry it with you at all times.

Order your prescriptions in advance, especially during poor weather.  Your GP can email your prescription to your Pharmacy so you do not need to visit the surgery. If you are unable to visit the Pharmacy, ask them about delivery options.  During COVID-19 the Community call can assist with delivery of prescriptions for people who are high risk or cocooning.  Contact: 1800 928 982

If you depend on medical equipment at home such as oxygen concentrators, CPAP, BiPAP or nebulisers, make sure to tell your electricity supplier. They can put you on the Special Services Register. This means that if there is a power cut, they will know about your situation and will try to restore your electricity as quickly as possible.  

3. Protect yourself against ‘Flu

In addition to the current risk of COVID-19, winter brings the usual risk of catching a cold or flu. These can cause your COPD or asthma symptoms to get worse. Maeve McKeon, HSE Self-Management Support Coordinator advises: ‘Get the ‘flu vaccine every year.  Ask those close to you to get the flu vaccine also.   Avoid anyone who has a cold or flu. Check with your GP if your Pneumonia vaccine is up to date.  Get the COVID-19 vaccination as soon as it is available to you."  For up to date, reliable information about COVID-19 vaccination visit’
Wash your hands and use hand sanitiser often. Use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze, Bin used tissues and then wash or sanitise your hands.  For more advice about colds and Flu visit:

4. Keep Active

In winter you may be less active, feel more tired and feel generally low but it is important to continue to keep active. This helps keep you warm and it will also have a positive effect on your physical and mental wellbeing. When you are indoors try not to sit still for more than one hour at a time.  Winter weather conditions can prevent you from going outdoors but there are ways to keep active indoors.  For ideas see the ‘Be Active at Home’ guidelines on  To help manage fatigue, break up periods of activity with rest, and be sure to get enough sleep.Krista Hegarty, Senior Respiratory Physiotherapist advises: ‘Breathlessness is a normal response to activity but it can occur more easily if you have a respiratory condition. It is important not to avoid activities that make you breathless. In fact, activity will improve your breathing and make it easier to do everyday activities such as washing, dressing or climbing stairs.  Talk to your respiratory healthcare professional to get advice on exercise suited to your ability.’

5. Become a better self-manager of your COPD or Asthma:

Get to know all about your respiratory condition.  Understand your symptoms and medication and how to manage flare ups.  This will provide you with control over your condition.  To learn more about your condition visit: or

If your COPD or asthma symptoms are affecting you on a daily basis, you are advised to take part in a Pulmonary Rehabilitation programme.  On this programme you will learn how to manage your condition better and exercise safely. Speak to your GP or respiratory consultant about Pulmonary Rehabilitation in your area.

Take part in the free Living Well Programme (available online during COVID-19).  This is a self-management programme which supports you to improve the skills needed to manage your condition.

6. Keep warm and keep well

If you’re outdoors, wrap up in layers and make sure you keep your head, hands and feet warm. It is a good idea to wrap a scarf around your nose and mouth. This helps warm the air going into your lungs.  Keep your home warm but ventilated. For more information and for a handy temperature card to use in your home see the ‘Keeping Well and Warm’ booklet on

Eat a healthy balanced diet, eating little and often.  This is important for good health all year round not just in winter.  Ensure you drink plenty of fluids. Speak to your GP or Pharmacist about a vitamin D supplement during the winter months when there is less sunlight.
For Further Information and support:
Local (Co Donegal): Ask your GP to refer you to your local Respiratory Care team.
National:  Asthma Advice line: 180044 54 64
COPD Advice line:    1800 83 21 46
For more tips on keeping well this winter during COVID-19 visit:
For more practical information on managing your long-term health condition, go to:


Last updated on: 28 / 01 / 2021