For people with asthma, identifying and avoiding known triggers is an important aspect of managing symptoms and reducing flare-ups. Unfortunately, even if you’re already taking precautions, winter can be a potentially dangerous time for people with asthma. Here’s what you should know about navigating the season’s challenges.
How Does Cold Weather Affect Asthma?
Winter weather changes can inflame airways, which is a problem for people whose bronchial tubes are already inflamed due to asthma. Because winter air is cold and dry, it can also cause muscles in the airway to spasm and irritate the lining of your already-sensitive lungs. Normally, these airways have a thin layer of fluid lining them, but this evaporates quickly when you breathe in dry air, leading to further irritation.
Asthma symptoms can include shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and tightness in the chest. People with severe asthma are especially at risk for serious complications during the winter months. Fortunately, there are excellent treatments available for people with difficult to control asthma.
What Other Factors Can Trigger Asthma Symptoms During the Winter?
- It’s not just cold dry air that irritates the airways, rainy and windy conditions can stir up mold spores and barometric pressure changes can trigger sinusitis, which can also cause an asthma flare.
- Illness, like a cold, influenza, and other viruses also lead to more inflammation of the airways. Such illnesses will also thicken the mucus in the bronchial tubes making it harder to breathe.
- More time spent indoors, often with little ventilation, means greater exposure to indoor allergens like dust mites, mold, and pet dander. And other irritants like cigarette smoke or smoke from a fireplace can trigger an asthma flare.
- In the southern part of the United States, certain tree pollens appear throughout the winter months.
With all these factors combined, it’s no surprise that asthma sufferers see an uptick in symptoms as the temperature drops.
How Can You Manage Asthma in Cold Weather?
The good news is that there are several ways to reduce the risk of asthma flare-ups this winter.
- Wear a scarf or mask over your face when spending time outside in the cold. Face coverings will make the air you’re inhaling warmer and more humid.
- Consider running a humidifier inside your home. Even if you can’t control the temperature and humidity outside, a humidifier can help you maintain ideal indoor moisture levels at 30 to 50%, which can make breathing easier.
- Wash your hands frequently and keep them away from your eyes and nose to keep germs at bay.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking extra fluids will help thin out the mucus lining in your airways.
- Get your flu shot and other recommended vaccines. While it may not necessarily change how the cold weather affects your asthma, staying current on vaccinations will protect you from illnesses that are more common during the winter months. People with asthma are more likely to experience complications from the flu, COVID-19, and other viruses.
- Try to avoid mouth breathing. When you’re outdoors, remember to breathe through your nose. Mouth breathing is associated with asthma attacks because it allows air to rush into the lungs quickly, which can be especially dangerous with dry, cold air.
- Do what you can indoors. If you regularly exercise or play sports outdoors, try to modify your routine on the coldest and windiest winter days. An upbeat exercise video, sessions with free weights, or a guided yoga practice are all good indoor ways to work up a good sweat without leaving home.
- Follow your prescribed Asthma Action Plan. This plan shaped by you and your asthma specialist identifies how to use your asthma medicines as prescribed and during an asthma flare. It will help you recognize asthma symptoms so you can treat promptly and get your symptoms under control quickly. Don’t forget to always carry your short-acting inhaler with you, but especially if exercising outdoors in cold, dry weather.
For personalized asthma care to help you manage symptoms and reduce attacks in every season, turn to Atlanta Asthma & Allergy. To schedule a visit with one of our specialists, request an appointment online or call us directly at (770) 953-3331.