Winter Weather and Your Asthma

How to keep your asth­ma under con­trol in the cold

An asth­ma attack occurs when your bronchial tubes (which car­ry air to and from the lungs) become inflamed after expo­sure to cer­tain trig­gers. As they become inflamed, the bronchial tubes nar­row, mak­ing it hard­er for air to pass through. As a result, it can be dif­fi­cult to catch your breath or breathe nor­mal­ly. Dur­ing an asth­ma attack, it is com­mon to expe­ri­ence symp­toms such as cough­ing, short­ness of breath and wheezing.

You may notice more fre­quent or severe asth­ma symp­toms dur­ing the win­ter. This is because as the air becomes cold­er, it is also dri­er. Your bronchial tubes are nor­mal­ly lined with a thin lay­er of flu­id and mucus. As you breathe in dry air, the flu­id, which helps air pass through more eas­i­ly, evap­o­rates faster than it can be replaced. This dries out and irri­tates the bronchial tubes, caus­ing them to become inflamed. Cold air also increas­es your body’s mucus pro­duc­tion. Your body uses the mucus lin­ing in your air­ways to help fil­ter out harm­ful par­ti­cles from the air you breathe. When too much mucus is pro­duced, it becomes thick­er and stick­i­er than nor­mal, increas­ing your chances of catch­ing a cold or virus.

While you may not be able to total­ly pre­vent expo­sure to all asth­ma trig­gers, there are steps you can take to help you breathe eas­i­er this win­ter. Aller­gist Jacque­line Moran, MD, shares tips to keep your asth­ma under con­trol as tem­per­a­tures drop.

Pro­tect your­self from a cold or flu virus

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) rec­om­mends an annu­al flu shot for most peo­ple ages six months and old­er. For those with asth­ma, virus­es includ­ing the flu can trig­ger an asth­ma attack or make asth­ma symp­toms worse. You are also at a high­er risk of devel­op­ing oth­er flu-relat­ed complications.

Your pri­ma­ry care physi­cian may also rec­om­mend you receive a pneu­mo­nia vac­cine for added protection.

In addi­tion to vac­ci­na­tions, fre­quent hand wash­ing can also pro­tect against the cold and flu. Keep alco­hol-based hand san­i­tiz­ers handy when you are in pub­lic places and reg­u­lar­ly wipe down shared sur­faces at home with dis­in­fect­ing wipes to stop the spread of germs and bacteria.

Increas­ing your flu­id intake can also help con­trol and thin the mucus lin­ing in your lungs, reduc­ing your risk of catch­ing a sea­son­al virus.

Safe-guard your home

Each year, ide­al­ly before the tem­per­a­tures drop, it is impor­tant to check your heater and replace air fil­ters in your home. Dur­ing cold­er weath­er, we spend more time indoors, which means increased expo­sure to dust, mold and oth­er irri­tants. As your heat­ing sys­tem warms your home, it can also blow dust and oth­er par­ti­cles into the air and trig­ger your asth­ma symp­toms. A dehu­mid­i­fi­er can help you main­tain good air qual­i­ty in your home dur­ing the dry, stuffy win­ter months.

Wash­ing your bed­ding each week in hot water, as well as vac­u­um­ing and dust­ing more fre­quent­ly, can also help reduce the num­ber of aller­gens in your home.

Addi­tion­al­ly, avoid wood-burn­ing fires. While sit­ting by a warm fire can be relax­ing and the smoke from burn­ing wood is not as haz­ardous as tobac­co smoke, any type of smoke can irri­tate your lungs.

Breathe through your nose

Try to breathe through your nose rather than your mouth when you’re out­side dur­ing cold­er weath­er. Blood ves­sels in your nose are able to warm up the air you breathe in before it reach­es your lungs. Breath­ing through your mouth skips this warm­ing process, send­ing cold air direct­ly to your lungs. Bundling up with a scarf and/​or face mask that cov­ers your nose and mouth can also be an effec­tive way to keep air­flow as warm as possible. 

Move your work­outs inside

Dur­ing phys­i­cal activ­i­ty, your body requires more oxy­gen. To do this, your body speeds up your breath­ing, often through your mouth, because it allows you to take in more air. When you engage in phys­i­cal activ­i­ty out­side dur­ing cold weath­er, it can over­whelm your lungs by deliv­er­ing a large vol­ume of cold air in a short peri­od of time. This irri­tates your lungs and increas­es the like­li­hood of an asth­ma attack.

If you plan to exer­cise out­side dur­ing the win­ter, try shift­ing to the after­noon when tem­per­a­tures are typ­i­cal­ly high­est. Warm­ing up for about 15 – 20 min­utes before head­ing out­side can also boost your lung func­tion and reduce asth­ma symptoms.

Have a plan

No mat­ter what sea­son, ensur­ing you are pre­pared to han­dle an asth­ma attack is impor­tant. An aller­gy and asth­ma spe­cial­ist can help you devel­op a per­son­al­ized treat­ment plan. If you notice your symp­toms wors­en­ing in the win­ter, your doc­tor may rec­om­mend tak­ing a pre­ven­tive dose of your asth­ma med­i­cine about a half hour before going out­side. This will help open your air­ways. Your aller­gist will also help you cre­ate an asth­ma action plan, which details how to han­dle an acute asth­ma attack and con­trol your asth­ma long-term. Your asth­ma action plan will also include impor­tant infor­ma­tion about symp­toms to watch for, when to call your aller­gist and when to seek emer­gency med­ical care.

If your symp­toms don’t improve or they wors­en, be sure to alert your aller­gist. They may rec­om­mend chang­ing your med­i­cines and/​or oth­er strate­gies to man­age your symp­toms. Keep­ing your asth­ma under con­trol may take a lit­tle more effort dur­ing the win­ter, but with a lit­tle prepa­ra­tion, you can reduce your risk of an attack. For more infor­ma­tion about our team of Aller­gists, or to sched­ule an appoint­ment, vis­it duly​healthand​care​.com/​a​s​t​h​m​a​-​a​l​l​ergy/.

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