I wore a mask to protect myself from germs and viruses before it was required by the COVID-19 pandemic. After my diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a debilitating and life-threatening respiratory disease, in April 2016, I now do everything I can to protect my lungs.
Unfortunately, I learned the hard way how serious respiratory viruses can be for those of us with IPF. A year after I was diagnosed, I caught a common respiratory virus and both of my lungs collapsed, landing me on a ventilator. I still suffer from post-traumatic stress from that incident and am deeply fearful of it happening again.
The months leading into winter can be brutal due to respiratory viruses, partly because kids head back to school. Last week, I was excited to see a friend who just had her second baby, but the visit was postponed after her toddler caught a cold just one week into day care.
Here in Canada, the cold and flu season extends through most of the winter, but September, October, and November are particularly difficult months for my breathing. I usually catch a virus that knocks me down for a few weeks, making work and other responsibilities challenging. However, it’s not just the common cold that poses a threat to my breathing every fall.
The following are some of the things that will be stacked against me in coming months, creating a perfect storm for my breathing:
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As the summer fades into fall, I notice my environmental allergies flare up, causing congestion, itchy eyes, and a dry cough. Many places in Canada are still screening people for COVID-19 symptoms before appointments or visits to certain locations, so I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot of explaining this fall that my symptoms are not related to COVID-19, but rather due to my lung disease or allergies.
September and October typically have warm days and cool nights. While this is ideal for sleeping, the temperature fluctuation isn’t good for my breathing because it causes increased breathlessness and discomfort in my chest. Temperature changes also cause a runny nose, which makes me cough or clear my throat more than I otherwise would.
Cold and flu season
I always get my flu shot, and if you’re immunocompromised and living with IPF, you should talk to your doctor about doing the same. While I do whatever I can to protect myself, I often end up with a cold or the flu. However, I believe the flu vaccine helps me avoid more serious symptoms.
Change in medications
It may seem odd that my medications change with the seasons, but it’s true. My pulmonologist typically increases the dose of my prescribed antihistamine in the fall to help reduce allergy-related symptoms. The increased dosage and the more frequent use of inhalers in the fall can make me feel fairly lousy.
What season is particularly difficult for your IPF symptoms? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.