Sometimes you can see your breath, but can you catch it? When temperatures are so low, the cold air can actually take your breath away. Rather, it can do a number of harmful things to your heart. It is more or less like a mini-asthma episode. If you’re breathing in the cold air through your mouth, then your lungs can get quite a shock and your heart needs to struggle a lot to keep on providing the oxygen supply to the various parts of your body. The muscles around those air tubes in the lungs can get tighter and it narrows the passageway for the air to get through and it’s like taking your breath away.
If you already have a lung condition, you may have to breathe even harder and as such snow shoveling and similar such activities can become dangerous for you. The oxygen in the heart gets distributed unevenly as a result of cold air and unlike in healthy people where this problem gets corrected, the people with heart problem can actually suffer a lot.
Your body uses more oxygen when you take in cold air and along with that some isometric work (carrying a brief case or a laptop, snow shoveling) is being done. In cold temperatures the heart has to work harder when exerted and this is the reason that why a number of deaths due to cardiac arrest peaks during the winter. If a person has a lung disease already or a cardiovascular problem such as coronary artery problem, or if they have asthma, it can trigger the asthma or it can trigger those muscles, which are even more sensitive and so the trick to catching your breath is easy; just breathe through your nose. Your nose’s job is to warm up the air, add moisture and to filter out dust and dirt.
When people are out in the cold they are often told to make sure they breathe through their nose because that is going to warm up the air. Breathing through your mouth can actually trap bacteria and viruses and allow them to grow. So cover your nose and mouth with your hand or a scarf. There are even warming masks available. But if you’re sick or your lungs are already irritated, use common sense. People who have chronic lung disease, asthma, emphysema, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis and some cardiovascular diseases, they should if at all possible stay indoors when it’s cold.