How To Handle Asthma In The Winter
What can you do to ease symptoms if winter weather affects your asthma?
- Limit outdoor exercise. Work out at home or in the gym.
- Wear a scarf and use it to warm the air youre breathing.
- Use humidifiers in your home. Keep them free of mold.
- Wash hands frequently. Washing with soap for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer while out can keep winter illnesses at bay.
- Be conscious of your hands. Keep them away from your face and eyes to avoid spreading germs.
- Get the flu vaccine in early fall.
- Have an Asthma Action Plan in place. Know what to do in case of a flare-up.
- Limit time with pets if youre allergic to pet dander. Keep your bedroom pet-free.
- If dust mites and mold trigger your symptoms, keep your home cool and dry to inhibit their growth.
- Clean and replace filters in your heating and cooling air ducts. Make sure filters are cleaned at the start of every season. Check periodically to keep indoor air quality optimal.
Exercise Can Trigger Asthma
Rapidly breathing in air dries inspired air as it moves through the upper airways, which ultimately dries the airway, which then releases histamine that can increase inflammation of the air passages in your lungs. This then leads to bronchospasm. The fact runners tend to breathe through their mouths only exacerbates this problem because the nose is a better humidifier than the mouth.
What About Winter Sports
Participating in winter sports can also be very challenging with asthma. When someone exercises they tend to breathe more deeply through their mouth instead of their nose. When your child breathes through their nose, the air gets warmed and moistened by their airways before reaching the lungs. Instead, when they breathe through their mouth, the air remains cold and dry, which can act as an asthma trigger.
Optimal Outside Climate For The Lungs And Safe Ranges
Because our body is a massive heater which burns energy and is insulated, the requirements of the core body temperature are different to the optimal outside climate.
The optimal outside weather conditions and safety ranges are as follows:
1. Feels Like Temperature 28 oC with a safe range of between 0oC and 32oC ,
2. Humidity 40%, with a safe range of between 30% to 50%
3. Wind Speed 0 km/hr with a safe range of less than 19 km/hr
4. Air Quality Index 0 with a safe level less than 50
As explained above, wind speed and humidity have a direct relationship to how the body perceives the air temperature and outside climatic conditions , but there are other effects which they have on the body.
These will be broken down now into each part, explaining the direct effects and why there are safe ranges.
Paying For Your Medicines
Most adults with asthma will need to pay a prescription charge for their medicines.
If you need to take a lot of medicines, paying for each item individually could get quite expensive. You may find it cheaper to get a prescription prepayment certificate. This is where you pay a one-off charge for all your prescriptions over a 3- or 12-month period.
You will not need to pay for your medicines if you do not normally pay prescription charges. For example, all under-16s are entitled to free prescriptions.
Read more about prescription costs to find out if you’re entitled to help with your prescription charges.
Thunderstorms And Extreme Weather Can Be A Threat To Asthma Control
In hot summer conditions, extreme weather such as thunderstorms become more prevalent. Experts aren’t entirely sure why but have identified that such weather conditions can trigger asthma attacks, sometimes severe.
It may be the airflow patterns during thunderstorms that cause this effect, rather than electrical activity such as thunder and lightning. It seems likely that these airflow patterns could result in more concentrated levels of pollen and mold, which could be one explanation for the increase in asthma attacks during thunderstorms.
Regardless of the reason, extreme weather definitely has had an impact on some of us asthmatics.
Seven Ways To Deal With Cold
Asthma doesnt mean you have to face a bleak winter. You can take steps to reduce cold-weather asthma attacks.
1. Limit exposure
If your kiddo coughs every time cold air hits their lungs, try to keep outside time to a minimum. Limit time outside as best you can, Dr. Thakur says.
2. Take your meds
Its always important to take asthma medications as prescribed. But thats especially true in the winter.
Inhaled steroids are medications that should be taken daily to reduce inflammation, even when you feels good, Dr. Thakur explains. Its especially important to use them regularly in the winter if youre sensitive to the cold.
3. Bundle up
A warm scarf tied over your childs mouth and nose can make the air they breathe a little less cold and dry.
4. Just add water
Using a humidifier at bedtime can help put a little moisture back into the winter air. Saline nasal sprays can also help moisten dried-out nasal passages, Dr. Thakur says.
5. Stay well
To avoid viral infections, steer clear of people with colds or the flu. Get in the habit of frequent hand washing to keep germs at bay.
6. Adjust activities
People with exercise-induced asthma when strenuous exercise causes airways to narrow tend to be sensitive to the cold, too. Try to limit physical activity when youre out in the chilly air.
7. Ask for help
Why Humidity And Cold Air Trigger Asthma
Every asthmatic should be aware that both humidity and cold air are two very common asthma triggers. So why is this? What can you do about it?
It’s been common wisdom for years that a cool mist humidifier helps with croup, inflammation and narrowing of a childs airways. Put a croupy kid in the hot and steamy bathroom and the swelling gets better.
Another method that often works for croup is taking the child outside in the cold winter air. This is why many times when a parent decides to take the child to the hospital, in the dead of winter, the child is fine by the time they arrive in the emergency room.
This is true for croup, so it was also theorized in past decades that it must also be true for asthma attacks. Most doctors are aware of this fallacy. In fact, doctors recognize that both cold air and humidity can actually trigger an asthma attack.
When I was little boy way back in the 1970s, my pediatrician recommended my parents have me sit in the hot steamy bathroom when I was having trouble breathing. It was also recommended I have a humidifier in my room.
Both of these made my asthma worse, not better. Yet I was a kid, so how was I to tell my parents that? My doctor and parents thought they were doing something good, yet their wisdom was flawed .
I wrote a post before how low and high humidity can trigger asthma. Studies show that a humidity of 50 percent or greater may lead to a greater incidence of asthma trouble.
Two common theories for this are:
Why Asthma Can Be Worse In Winter And Steps To Manage Attacks
Asthma is a chronic condition that affects nearly 25 million people in America. Its a respiratory disease that makes breathing difficult and often comes with lung spasms, wheezing, and chest tightness.
Your lungs are made of bronchi that transport air to and from your lungs. If you have asthma, your airways are easily inflamed. Inflamed airways swell, closing your breathing passages and making it hard for air to reach your lungs.
Changes in your environment like weather, dust, and smoke can make your lungs extra sensitive. For many asthmatics, winter weather brings more frequent asthma attacks. The doctors at Wasatch Peak Family Practice can help you find an asthma treatment plan that works with your lifestyle.
One of the best things you can do to prevent and manage asthma attacks in winter is to understand your triggers and know your treatment plan. Let us help you understand your asthma and how to control it.
How Does Exercising Trigger Asthma
When exercising we breathe in and out rapidly. It gets to the point our turbinates cannot keep up. Making this worse is when we revert to breathing. Many of us breathe through our mouths when exercising. This is because our mouths offer less resistance to inhaled air. Mouth breathing makes breathing easier.
Of course, when youre doing this your nose is bypassed. Cold and dry air cannot be properly warmed and humidified. Airway cells have to work overtime to warm and humidify this inhaled air. Such rapid changes inside cells cause them to release mediators of inflammation, such as histamine and leukotrienes. These mediators cause airway inflammation.
Of course, asthmatic airways are already somewhat inflamed. So, sensory neurons in airway tissue are already sensitized; they are already hypersensitive. They respond by causing smooth muscles wrapped around airways to spasm and constrict. This causes airways to become abnormally narrow.4-6
When this happens, its diagnosed as Exercise Induced Asthma . This is something that affects over 80% of asthmatics. 5-7
Exercise can trigger asthma at any time. But, as the air gets colder, this risk increases. There is no set temperature listed in literature where your risk for EIA starts to increase. Based on my own experience with this, I tend to go with 50°F. If its warmer than 50°F I exercise outside if I want. If its less than 50°F I exercise indoors. I work out at home or at the health club.
Whats The Connection Between Cold Weather And Asthma
When you have your airways swell up and become inflamed in response to certain . Swollen airways are narrower and cant take in as much air. Thats why people with asthma often have trouble catching their breath.
Winter is an especially hard time for people with asthma. A Chinese study from 2014 found that hospital admissions for asthma increased during the winter months. And in the cold climate of the north of Finland, up to 82 percent of people with asthma experienced shortness of breath when they exercised in cold weather.
When you work out, your body needs more oxygen, so your breathing speeds up. Often, you breathe through your mouth to take in more air. While your nose has blood vessels that warm and humidify the air before it reaches your lungs, air that travels directly through your mouth remains cold and dry.
Exercising outdoors in cold weather delivers cold air rapidly to your airways. It also appears to increase your likelihood of having an asthma attack. What is it about the cold air that triggers asthma symptoms?
Cold air is hard on asthma symptoms for several reasons.
What Are The Symptoms Of Cold
There are several factors that may manifest when you have cold-induced asthma. These symptoms typically develop shortly after you are exposed to cold surroundings. The good news is that the symptoms will just go away once you reach a warmer environment. Here are some of the symptoms of cold-induced asthma you should look out for:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
These symptoms may just go away when proper medications are taken. However, individuals with more severe asthma may experience long-lasting symptoms.
Cold Weather And Asthma
Cold weather is a common trigger for asthma symptoms.
There are things you can do to help control your symptoms in the cold:
- carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times and keep taking your regular preventer inhaler as prescribed
- if you need to use your inhaler more than usual, speak to your doctor about reviewing your treatment
- keep warm and dry wear gloves, a scarf and a hat, and carry an umbrella
- wrap a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth this will help warm up the air before you breathe it
- try breathing in through your nose instead of your mouth your nose warms the air as you breathe
Why Does Cold Weather Make Asthma Worse
There are a few reasons why cold weather may contribute to the worsening of asthma symptoms. When individuals with asthma exercise in cold weather, they are not able to warm their breath effectively before it reaches their lungs. Because the body automatically keeps the interior organs at a warm temperature, it can shock the lungs to rapidly breathe very cold winter air. In response to the cold air, the lungs become inflamed, which can lead to an asthma attack.
In addition to the shock that cold air causes to the lungs, it can also cause airway dryness. Cold winter air is often very dry, which can cause irritation to even healthy lungs. Because asthmatics already have weaker lungs, the dry air affects them even more severely and can result in severe asthma attacks or prolonged, uncomfortable breathing.
Cold weather also brings the flu and sniffles along with it, which can exacerbate asthma symptoms and make the winter months absolutely miserable for those who suffer from asthma. If asthmatic individuals properly prepare for the cold weather, they can more effectively manage their asthma symptoms and improve their quality of life during the cold winter months.
Why Does Cold Air Trigger Asthma
Cold air holds less water than warm air. So, cold air tends to be drier than warm air. 2 So, not only can it cool airways, but it can also dry them. Its this combination of cooling and drying of airways that is suspected of triggering asthma symptoms.
Our normal body temperature is 98.7°F. Airway cells, like all cells, contain a certain amount of fluid. This is needed so they can do their work. 3 Cells lining airway are also covered by a layer of fluid.4 So, this is the normal state of things inside your airways. Your body is constantly making efforts to maintain this state of normalcy.
Inside your nose are turbinates. These are bony-like protrusions on either side of your nasal passages. These act as natural heaters and humidifiers. They warm and humidify air you inhale to body temperature. So, your nose has a significant job in maintaining normalcy inside your lungs. 5
Its easy for your nose to keep up when inhaled air is warm. But, when the air gets cold, they have a hard time keeping up. Fluid lining airways is absorbed to humidify cold air. Likewise, cells lining airways also have to get involved. They have to give up some of their moisture to humidify this air. They also have to give up some of their heat. So, inhaling cold air both cools and dries airways. 4
This can happen if the air gets cold enough. It can happen in freezing temperatures. Although this effect is exacerbated when youre exercising in colder temperatures.
Consider Moving Your Workout Indoors
If you normally exercise outdoors, consider switching your routine. And if you cant resist that jog around the park, head out during the warmest part of the day.
Whats more, If you have exercise-induced asthma, your doctor may prescribe an inhaled bronchodilator that contains , that you will use about 30 minutes before exercising outside, Dr. Berger says. Those symptoms can be even worse when you work out in cold air.
Tips For Maintaining Asthma Control During The Hot Summer Months
Planning ahead is the key to maintaining asthma control in the fact of hot, humid or hot, dry weather. Here are a few tips that can make a difference:
- Stay as much as you can, where environmental conditions are more steady, especially if you have air conditioning. Try to limit outdoor times to early morning or after sunset, when temperatures are often more moderate.
- Watch the pollen and mold levels by checking local weather forecasts or using websites such as pollen.com. Stay indoors as much as you can when levels are high.
- Take your asthma and allergy medication as prescribed, including keeping your quick-relief inhaler on hand at all times.
- Drink plenty of cool water to keep yourself .
- Keep your Asthma Action Plan updated so you can respond to any slip in asthma control promptly.
With a little care and planning, you can prevent heat from becoming a significant factor when managing your asthma.
Identify And Avoid Your Triggers
It’s important to identify possible asthma triggers by making a note of where you are and what you’re doing when your symptoms get worse.
Some triggers can be hard to avoid, but it may be possible to avoid some, such as dust mites, pet fur and some medicines.
You’ll have regular contact with your doctor or asthma nurse to monitor your condition.
These appointments may involve:
- talking about your symptoms for example, if they’re affecting your normal activities or are getting worse
- a discussion about your medicines including if you think you might be experiencing any side effects and if you need to be reminded how to use your inhaler
- breathing tests
It’s also a good chance to ask any questions you have or raise any other issues you want to discuss.
You may be asked to help monitor your condition between appointments. For example, you may be advised to check your peak flow if you think your symptoms may be getting worse.
Your personal action plan should say what to do if your symptoms get gradually or suddenly worse. Contact your doctor or asthma nurse if you’re not sure what to do.
How To Manage Asthma During Cold Weather
Many people who have been diagnosed with asthma have an action plan to stick to. This should be used at all times, not just during cold weather or the colder months.
An action plan may be put together with a doctor and will include details about:
- what you can take or use to reduce your risk of asthma symptoms developing and an asthma attack
- what you should do if your asthma gets worse and you develop symptoms
- What to do if youre having an asthma attack
If you have asthma or suspect you have it and dont have a plan, see a doctor.
While you should always be guided by a doctor with any action plan you have, you can also do the following to help you manage your asthma during cold weather.
Focus On Breathing Through Your Nose
That way your airways will be filled with warm air, not cold air thats breathed through your mouth. If you find you cant resist mouth-breathing, or will be exerting yourself , bundle up by wearing a scarf or face or ski mask over your mouth. This will help ward off potential pollens and warm the air you are breathing in.
How Does Weather Affect My Asthma And Copd
This is a very common question and one which after months of research, I have found has a number of factors. But once you understand the weather and the effects on the body and lungs, you gain a better understand of how to deal with these issues. So to get started, lets look at the weather and what factors affect this.
How To Manage Asthma Symptoms During Winter
Although there is nothing you can do to completely get rid of your asthma symptoms during cold weather, there are plenty of things you can do to minimize your symptoms and make life more enjoyable. Here are a few things you should plan on doing this winter season if you want to avoid being miserable until next spring.
- Exercise indoors instead of outdoors.
- Take your asthma medication 10 15 minutes before you leave the house or exercise.
- Bundle up appropriately for cold weather, even if you are only planning to be outside for a few minutes.
- Try to keep the nasal passages clear with irrigation, saline spray or decongestants.
- Stay indoors on particularly symptomatic days or when the weather is extremely dry and cold.
- Always keep an emergency inhaler with you.
- Wear a scarf over your nose and mouth when you are outdoors.
If you do all of these things, you give yourself a better opportunity at managing your asthma symptoms and enjoying the winter season like you should.
What Can You Do If Youre Having An Asthma Attack
If you start to wheeze or feel short of breath, refer to the asthma action plan you wrote up with your doctor.
If your symptoms are so that you cant speak, take your quick-acting medicine and seek immediate medical attention. You may need to stay under observation until your breathing stabilizes.
Here are some other general guidelines for what to do if you have an asthma attack:
Can The Weather Affect My Child’s Asthma
Yes. Weather conditions can bring on symptoms. Some kids’ asthma symptoms get worse at certain times of the year. For others, a severe storm or sudden weather change can trigger a flare-up.
Cold, dry air is a common asthma and can cause bad flare-ups. That’s especially true for people who play winter sports and have exercise-induced asthma.
Hot, humid air also can be a problem. In some places, heat and sunlight combine with pollutants to create ground-level ozone. This kind of can be a strong asthma trigger.
Wet weather and windy weather can cause problems too. Wet weather encourages mold growth, and wind can blow mold and pollen through the air.
If you think weather plays a role in your child’s asthma, keep a of asthma symptoms and possible triggers and discuss them with your doctor. If pollen, mold, or other make asthma symptoms worse, ask about allergy testing.
Spending More Time Inside Can Trigger Asthma
Cold air can trigger an asthma attack, so many people with asthma avoid going outside in the winter. But indoor air isnt necessarily better. Indoor air can be filled with dust, dander, and mold that can cause asthma attacks, too.
Indoor air is often warm and dry, and central heating systems circulate cold and flu viruses through offices and schools. Dry air irritates your airways, leaving you susceptible to an asthma attack.
Your body naturally produces mucus to line and protect your sinuses, throat, lungs, and more from drying out. It keeps your airways moist, but dry air can make it evaporate quickly and lead to irritation. Once your airways are inflamed, they swell up and make it hard to breathe.
Humid Air Is Heavy And Harder To Breathe In
Have you ever felt that it is harder to breathe when atmospheric conditions are hot and humid? A study published a few years ago found that humid air actually increases airway inflammation and causes airways to narrow.4
Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT, here at Asthma.net states:
“If youve ever exercised on a hot, summer day you know that it seems harder to breathe. Add some humidity to the scenario, and breathing is even more difficult. These very same conditions seem to create much more difficulty for those with asthma. It is not entirely clear as to why the heat and humidity affect asthmatics the way they do. Quite simply, hot, humid air is heavier than normal air and so, is more difficult to breathe. These conditions create a chain reaction of events that can raise the body temperature, increase sweating and possibly dehydration, and cause you to breathe at a faster rate. When a person with asthma is having difficulty breathing , these conditions can easily exacerbate asthma symptoms, even without actually causing them.”
Besides the effect that breathing warm air, especially warm, humid air can have on your ability to breathe, there are other factors to consider. Hot, moist air creates the perfect breeding ground for mold growth and dispersal of mold spores into the air. It’s also a great environment for dust mite growth. These are two of the main allergens for people who have allergic asthma.
In Summary How Do I Handle Extreme Temperatures
The right balance in core body temperature of between 36 oC and 38 oC is essential for helping to balance the lung functionality. Once the temperature drops below or above these core temperatures, then it may result in coughing as the body tries to remove the irritants which are causing the airway walls to become dried out and agitated. Sadly, this is either the hot dry air, or the cold dry air which we are breathing, and it may result in consistent coughing.
The best way to handle this to breath through the nose and/or have a barrier like a clothing which can help hydrate and heat or cool the air before it enters the lungs.