How to care for your airway during winter

Cold air and decreased humidity in winter can increase the hyper-responsiveness of the airway, especially in conditions of high AQI.


The coldest days of yet another winter are here. How have you been coping? Are you consciously taking good care of your health, especially your respiratory health, which is of utmost importance in this season? The nose and the throat are the primary pathways through which we take in air and life-sustaining oxygen into our lungs. Cold air and decreased humidity in winter can increase the hyper-responsiveness of the airway, especially in conditions of high AQI. In people who are prone to develop bronchitis, asthma or allergic rhinitis, these conditions can be worsened. Caring for your upper airway in the right way can protect you from these common winter ailments. Here are some simple, doable tips: 

  • Hydrate, as dehydration makes the throat and nose more susceptible to the ill effects of pollution, stress, and acidity. 
  • A glass of lukewarm water first thing in the morning kick-starts your metabolism. 
  • Do not take citrus juices or fruits on an empty stomach. This can increase acid reflux and irritate the lining mucosa of the nose, sinuses, throat, and lungs. Acid reflux and diabetes are two of the most common medical issues that aggravate ENT problems. 
  • Include more protein and fat in your breakfast than carbohydrate-rich food choices. This will keep your metabolism active for longer periods and also prevent acid reflux. For diabetics, this will help control insulin spikes and fluctuating sugar levels. 
  • Like food choices, the level of physical activity and how you exercise have direct impacts on your airway health. Brisk walk, cycling, playing outdoors in sunny weather is beneficial not just for your physical but also mental wellbeing. However, it is advisable not to exercise outdoors in extremely cold weather as this can irritate the mucosa of the nose, throat, sinuses, and lungs, leading to increased phlegm, throat irritation, winter headaches, cough, chest congestion, voice fatigue, etc. 
  • Regular physical activity, however, is vital. Home exercises like stretching, skipping rope, yoga, pilates, and calisthenics, as per your fitness level, can be easily done indoors every day. 
  • In addition, deep breathing exercises and pranayama help keep the nasal tissues and lower airways active and toned. 
  • Do not use medicated nasal sprays without the recommendation of your ENT specialist. They cause dryness that can lead to sudden nasal bleeds, in addition to other complications. 
  • Do not poke the nose. Apply Vaseline or a saline nasal spray to keep it moist. l Hypertension should be strictly under control during this weather, as a sudden rise in blood pressure in addition to the dryness of the nose can lead to a massive nasal bleed. 
  • Do not overdose on vitamins. Always follow your doctor’s advice. Vitamins A, D, and E stay in your body for longer periods, and overdoses can cause liver damage and increased uric acid levels, among other complications. 
  • Avoid sweets, high-sugar juices, and confectionery when you have a sore throat, as carbohydrates help the bacteria multiply and aggravate infections. 
  • Brush your teeth before bed. 
  • Avoid smoking, including passive smoking and vaping. In addition to direct damage to the throat, nasal, sinus, and lung linings, it causes irritable bowel, acid reflux, and malabsorption problems that aggravate respiratory ailments, especially in the winter. 
  • Above all, strive to be happy and peaceful inside. It is the best way to develop your immunity. 

Dr Geetalima Dutta is a senior ENT Surgeon.