As a worker who has to be exposed to the cold, something you should keep in mind is how the cold could affect your lungs. If you have an underlying health condition such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may find that working outside makes your condition more likely to flare or worsen.
Why does that happen? Cold air exposure increases two kinds of white blood cells in the lungs: granulocytes and macrophages. The air in winter tends to be drier, too, which means that the mucociliary function of the lungs becomes impaired. Essentially, the lungs can’t self-clean themselves as quickly as usual. This may allow pollutants, like the exhaust fumes from a work vehicle, to build up in the lungs more easily and trigger underlying illnesses.
What can you do to protect your lungs on the job?
If you know that you have these conditions and that they may be exacerbated by the cold, shielding your lungs from the cold can help. Wearing a scarf over the mouth to help warm the air before it enters the lungs, staying hydrated, and breathing through the nose can help. You may also want to take any preventative medications you have and consider avoiding outdoor work when it’s possible to do so.
When you go home, consider taking a hot shower to boost hydration in the lungs and help moisten the mucous membranes, which may be dehydrated from the cold, dry air.
Cold air might not be avoidable, but you could seek workers’ compensation if you need medical care
In most outdoor workplaces, the likelihood of avoiding cold air is going to be an impossibility. However, you should be aware of what cold air does and how it may affect your medical conditions. If you have COPD, asthma or other lung conditions, be aware that the airways may become irritated or inflamed because of the cold, dry air, and carry your rescue medications.
If you do end up having a flare that results in a trip to the emergency room, an accident on the job or necessary time off, that’s when workers’ compensation comes into play.