Why Is Cold Weather Hard On People With Asthma
- Wild weather: Winter often brings rain, wind and fluctuations in air pressure, even for those in mild climates. Rainy and windy weather can stir up mold spores and barometric pressure changes can trigger sinusitis. These can also cause asthma flare-ups.
- Illnesses: Colds, flu and viruses are common in winter and can lead to more inflammation of your airways. Such illnesses thicken the mucus in bronchial tubes and make it harder to breathe. This can worsen symptoms or cause asthma flare-ups.
- Time spent indoors: When the weather is cold, you may stay inside longer with the windows closed and the heat on. And you may be exposed to more indoor allergens, irritants and respiratory viruses. For example, you could be at risk for an asthma flare if your symptoms are triggered by dust, mold or pet dander, or cigarette smoke if theres a smoker in the house.
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.
Pollen Levels Are On The Rise
Starting in the spring, pollen levels begin to rise in the air you breathe. In the early to late spring, trees are blooming and sending out millions of pollen particles. Then late spring into summer, when hot temperatures are first beginning to be felt, depending on where you live, it’s grass pollen. And finally, in late summer, when temps are often at their highest levels, it’s weed pollen that is in play.3
If you have allergic asthma, pollen can be a powerful trigger. I know it’s one of my worst asthma triggers.
What Weather Factorsaffect Me And Why
Have you ever noticed on weather readings that you have both a temperature and a feels like temperature. Looking at my phone today, the temperature says 20.2 oC, but the feels like says 18.2 oC.
I never fully understood the difference until I started researching this question and here is why.
The temperature reading is the air temperature, but the feels like temperature is what the weather conditions feel like to your body and there are a number of conditions which are taken into to account to create the feels like temperature including humidity and wind chill factor.
Feels like temperature is what the body perceives the temperature is and is a combination of the following:
1. Air temperature The temperature of the air outside of our body,
2. Humidity Humidity can lower the feels like temperature by a few of degrees as it drops below 40%.
Humidity has a lot greater effect on the feels like temperature at levels above 40%, for example, it has the ability to increase the feels like temperature by 4oC to to 20oC, as humidity raises above 40% and heads towards 80-100% humidity.
There are other effects, but this will be explained in more detail on the effects to the body and lungs later on.
3. Wind Speed Just as the humidity level changes the feels like temperature, but wind chill factor is opposite to humidity in that as wind speed increases above 0 km/hr, it actually cools the body and reduces the feels like temperature. Hence the name wind chill factor.
How Can I Look After My Asthma This Winter
Take your preventer inhaler as prescribed
Your preventer inhaler stops inflammation building up in your airways. You need to take it every day, all year round, even if you feel well. Taking your preventer inhaler as prescribed means your airways will be less sensitive and less likely to react to triggers. This includes any of your winter triggers, like cold air.
Keep your reliever inhaler with you at all times
Your reliever inhaler quickly deals with asthma symptoms if you get them. Always carry it with you, in case you come across any of your asthma/winter triggers
See your GP if:
you have symptoms, or need to use your reliever inhaler, three or more times a week
Use your asthma action plan
One of the best ways to look after your asthma is to use an asthma action plan. This helps you stay on top of your asthma treatments and triggers and tells you what to do if your symptoms get worse. Use it all year round, so that youre already feeling in control when winter comes.
If youre not using one yet, find out how to get an asthma action plan and how you can get the most out of it.
Have regular asthma reviews
Most people with asthma go for an asthma review at least once a year. If you have difficult or severe asthma, you may need to go more often. A regular asthma review with your GP means you can feel confident your asthma action plan is up to date, and that youre on the right treatment to help you stay well all year round.
Effects Of Feels Like Temperature On The Body And Lungs
The feels like temperature has an effect on the core body temperature as well as the lungs.
For example, at the optimal outside temperature of 28 oC , the body is easily able to maintain the core temperature of 37 oC with minimal change to bodily function.
This in turn results in a core temperature in the lungs being at 37 oC, which is the optimal temperature for mucociliary transportation. This is the process in the lungs which is the first line of defence against any foreign particles from entering the lungs.
The mucociliary clearance process is responsible for capturing up to 90% of all foreign particles which enter the lungs from our breath, including but not limited to smoke, pollutants, bacteria, viruses and parasites like dust mites, mould spores, etc
Then mucociliary escalator transports these foreign particles up to the throat to be either coughed or swallowed to remove them from the airways and alveoli in our lungs.
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.
How Can You Avoid Asthma Attacks In The Cold
To prevent asthma attacks, try to stay indoors when the temperature dips very low, especially if its below 10°F .
If you do have to go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf to warm the air before you breathe it in.
Here are a few other tips:
- Drink extra fluids in the winter. This can keep the mucus in your lungs thinner and therefore easier for your body to remove.
- Try to avoid anyone who appears to be sick.
- Get your flu vaccine early in the fall.
- Vacuum and dust your home often to remove indoor allergens.
- Wash your sheets and blankets every week in hot water to get rid of dust mites.
Here are some ways to prevent asthma attacks when you exercise outdoors in cold weather:
- Use your inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before you exercise. This opens up your airways so you can breathe easier.
- Carry an inhaler with you in case you have an asthma attack.
- Warm up for at least 10 to 15 minutes before you work out.
- Wear a mask or scarf over your face to warm the air you breathe in.
Can Cold Air Cause An Asthma Attack
If your asthma is severe and cold air is a trigger, then you are at risk for an asthma attack in cold weather. Consult your Asthma Action Plan to manage asthma in cold weather. You should always seek medical attention if symptoms worsen.
To keep cold air from causing an asthma flare:
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.
Top Triggers For Winter Allergies Including Asthma
Winter allergies, too, can trigger asthma. Here are some of the most common triggers of winter allergies that can worsen your asthma.
- Pet dander
New research reveals that anxiety can aggravate asthma. Anxiety is characterized as having a fear of fear. Managing asthma can be much more difficult for those who also have anxiety, according to the recent study. The research comes from the University of Cincinnati. Continue reading
A recent Mayo Clinic study suggests that taking less asthma medication can be done safely and cost effectively if patients follow guidelines. Doctors commonly scale down asthma medication prescriptions due to how costly they can be, but knowing when to begin cutting back can be challenging and the risks need to be better understood. Continue reading
Why Can Cold Air Trigger Asthma
People with asthma have airways that are more sensitive, and prone to inflammation. Cold air can lead to dryness in the airways, the tightening of the muscles around the airways and impair the normal function of the airways to clear inhaled substances. All of this can lead to an increase in asthma symptoms.
In Australia, we are generally used to breathing warm, humid air which is what our lungs need to stay vital and healthy and clear debris that we breathe in.
Cold and dry air conditions make it harder for our lungs to do the things it needs to in order to make our breathing easy and keep us healthy.
How Can My Story Help Others
When I provide virtual asthma education to families, I share stories to help them remember things. When we talk about asthma triggers, I share The Yogurt Story. That story helped someone realize they had asthma!
Before COVID, I was helping a family learn more about asthma. An older family member was nearby, but I didn’t think they were listening. Later, they became sick and started coughing. That family member told the parent that they thought they had asthma. When the parent questioned them, the family member said they overheard my Yogurt Story. And they realized that every time they ate or drank something cold, they started coughing too.
The parent took this sick family member into the clinic, and they were also diagnosed with asthma. Wow! It did help to share The Yogurt Story.
Do cold weather and/or cold food or drinks affect your asthma too?
Why Does Cold Weather Trigger Asthma
Although you may be aware that your asthma symptoms are worse in winter, you may not be aware of why. There are several contributing factors.
Cold air is very dry, and as you breathe it in it rapidly causes the thin layer of fluid in the airways to dry up. This fluid cannot be replaced by the body quickly enough, leaving the airways feeling dry, swollen and irritated.
At the same time, the body produces more histamines in response to cold air hitting the airways. This is the same substance that is produced during exposure to an allergen, such as pollen. Histamine causes unwanted symptoms such as wheezing, which contributes to the overall exacerbation of asthma in cold weather.
If all of that doesnt sound bad enough, the body produces more mucus when its cold. However, the mucus is stickier than usual and also very thick. This increases the chances of catching a cold or a virus.
What Can I Do?
Understanding what the cold air does to the body is a great start, but youll also want to know what steps you can take to lessen the effect. The good news is there are some things you can do which help.
Of course, where possible its better to avoid exposing your lungs to cold temperatures but its simply not practical to hibernate for several months every year! However, if you can minimize how long you spend in cold temperatures, your body will thank you for it.
Manage your Triggers
Can Throwing Up Affect A Breathalyzer
The presence of vomit, blood, gas, or liquids in the mouth can significantly alter the results of a breathalyzer test. For instance, the alcohol level in vomit can nearly double the alcohol level in the sample of exhaled breath. The officer must also monitor the subjects breath and breathing pattern.
Asthma Control And Cold Weather
Cold weather commonly aggravates respiratory symptoms among adults with asthma.
Poor asthma control increases cold-weather related respiratory symptoms.
Both low and high BMI strengthen the effect of poor asthma control.
The effect of poor asthma control is also stronger among current smokers.
Best Weather For Asthma
There is no optimal weather condition for people with asthma, but many find that consistency in temperatures and conditions is better for symptoms.
Allergens and pollutants in the air are two of the most significant factors that affect asthma symptoms. Certain types of weather may increase both air pollution and common allergens.
Some people with asthma experience problems in very cold or hot temperatures, which can increase airway irritation. Mild temperatures and low levels of humidity might decrease the risk of airway irritation.
Not only is humidity a problem for people with asthma, but other weather conditions can also lead to symptoms.
The weather conditions most likely to trigger asthma include:
- Extreme heat: When temperatures climb, pollution levels may also rise, which can trigger asthma symptoms.
- Cold, dry air: Cold, dry air can irritate the airways and lead to bronchospasm. This often results in common asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing.
- Windy conditions: Common allergens, such as pollen, blow around in the wind. Add rain into the mix, and it can lead to an increase in mold spores. Both pollen and mold are common triggers for people with asthma.
- Rapid changes in temperature: Some people are also sensitive to a quick change in weather conditions, such as heat one day and cold the next.
What Happens In The Lungs To Make Us Cough In Cold Temperatures Below 0 Oc
The issue with cold air is that it doesnt hold water very well, as it usually freezes water in the air below 0oC, making it heavy, i.e. causing ice and/or frost to build up on surfaces like grass, trees, cars, etc
On top of this, cold air dries out particles which are breathed into the lungs. The lungs work on a principle of humidity and water vapour, i.e. water around a particle is attracted to water molecules in the mucus on the airway walls of the lungs to help capture the particles and transport them out of the lungs to be coughed out or swallowed as a part of the clearance process to maintain lung hygiene.
The issues with cold air below 0oC cause 3 affects within the lungs.
1. Reduced Humidity level of the lungs As mentioned, the ideal humidity level in the lungs is 100%. With cold air of 0 oC or less entering the lungs, this has the potential to reduce the humidity level of the air in the lungs, resulting in dehydrating the mucus and drying out the skin of the airway walls . This in turn causes the airway walls to become dried out, causing redness, agitation and potentially leading to inflammation and excess mucus secretion. To better understand the effects, think of how the cold wind on the outside of our body dries out our skin as it blows across the skin. This draws out moisture and eventually causing redness if exposed too long.
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.
How Can I Prevent Infections That Trigger Asthma
- Good hygiene can decrease viral infections. Prevent the spread of infection by making sure you and your family members wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water.
- Check with your health care provider about receiving a flu shot every year. In addition, discuss the possibility of getting a pneumococcus — or — . Pneumococcus is a common cause of bacterial pneumonia, an illness that can be particularly serious in a person with asthma. Depending on your age and any risk factors you may have, you may need two different types of pneumonia vaccines.
- with asthma can be very serious. Be aware of the symptoms of a sinus infection and report them immediately to your doctor to prevent asthma attacks.
- Keep breathing equipment clean. Do not let others use your asthma medications or asthma treatment, including your asthma inhaler, asthma nebulizer, and nebulizer tubing and mouthpiece.
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.
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.
Is Asthma Triggered By Cold Air
When someone with asthma breathes in cold, dry air, it can make the muscles inside start to spasm while also trying to keep airways open. This further irritates the lining of the airways and causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.
Cold air can trigger asthma symptoms and flare-ups, especially when theres dryness in cold air. For many people with asthma, its the dryness in cold air that can lead to breathing problems. Cold air accompanied by windy conditions can also trigger symptoms. In general, the more severe your asthma is, the more likely cold air is to affect you.
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.
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.
What About Cold Food And Asthma
Did you know that it’s not just cold weather? That things we eat or drink can trigger an asthma attack? Well, I didn’t either until a few years ago.
We were short on space at work, so my intern was sharing my large office. One morning she asked me if I had just eaten a yogurt. I thought that was a weird conversation to be having, but yes – I had just eaten a yogurt.
She noticed that every time I eat my morning yogurt, I start coughing. Hmmmm.
For the rest of the week, I paid attention to how I felt after I ate a yogurt, and she was right! I started out with a tickle in my throat , and then the coughing started. Not enough that I needed my inhaler, but enough to see a pattern and realize that my body does NOT like cold food. Duly noted.
The same thing happened when I had a , only it was much worse. I had a pretty nasty asthma attack and lost my voice.
Okay, I get it! My lungs don’t like cold temperatures – either breathing in cold air, or eating or drinking cold foods. Fine.