Tips To Make Winter Easier On Your Asthma
Don’t let the cold, dry air or a common cold worsen your asthma symptoms. Follow these tips to stay healthy when the temperatures dip.
Unless you love stepping outside to cold, dry air that smacks you in the face, winter can be a dreary season. For people with asthma, the cold weather can worsen their symptoms.
There are two issues with winter for people with asthma, notes Marilyn Li, MD, an allergist and immunologist with the LAC+USC Healthcare Network in Los Angeles. One is that the air is cold and dry, and the other is people have more sinus and upper respiratory infections, either of which can trigger or worsen asthma attacks.
To keep a handle on asthma attacks during the cold-weather months, here are 10 things you can do.
Can A Cold Make Asthma Worse
Colds and flu are the top trigger for people with asthma. 75% of people with asthma say their symptoms get worse when they have a cold or the flu, and this could lead to a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. When you have a cold or the flu, your airways become more inflamed and you produce more mucus.
Why Humid Conditions Make Asthma Worse
Research reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine suggests that shortness of breath and coughing is made worse in hot, humid environments. Its thought that these conditions affect the normal functions of the air passages through heat stress, and can lead to increased asthma attacks. Trapped pollutants, such as ozone and exhaust fumes, in the air only make things worse for city dwellers. Its well known that during the hot summer months, and especially at the peak in late summer, trips to the emergency room become more frequent.
As humidity rises, other summer pollutants present additional irritants, and these can include:
- Smoke from fires, whether natural or from barbecue fires
- Rising pollen counts
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What About Medicines For Blood Pressure
Beta-blockers, used to control blood pressure and heart disease, can make asthma worse. This group of drugs includes propranolol, atenolol and metoprolol. If you have started taking a beta-blocker and your asthma gets worse, tell your doctor.
ACE inhibitors are another type of medicine given to treat blood pressure, heart disease and, sometimes, diabetes. Drugs such as captopril, enalapril and lisinopril are included in this group. These medicines appear to be safe for people who have asthma. However, some people develop a cough when taking ACE inhibitors. If you start coughing while youre taking an ACE inhibitor, remember that the cough might not be caused by your asthma. If the cough is caused by the ACE inhibitor, it will usually go away a week or so after you stop taking the medicine. If you develop other problems that make your asthma worse, call your doctor to see if you should stop taking your ACE inhibitor.
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Common Questions About Cold Weather Asthma
Here are a few of the most common questions people have about cold weather asthma and winter asthma triggers.
1. Can asthma be triggered by cold weather?
Temperature and humidity seem to exacerbate asthma symptoms. Cold, dry air is a common asthma trigger and can cause issues for those whoplay outdoor winter sports. Take precautions and talk to your physician about using an inhaler or taking other medicines to manage cold weather asthma.
2. What helps asthma in cold weather?
There are several things you can do to minimize the impact of winter asthma triggers. Get the flu shot and avoid contact with anyone showing signs of a respiratory virus. Dont sit by awood-burning fireplace. Replace your HVAC filters frequently. Exercise indoors and avoid prolonged activity outside in colder weather. Finally, consider using aportable spirometer to monitor lung health.
3. How cold is too cold for asthma?
According to medical experts, people with cold-weather asthma should avoid going outdoors when the temperature falls below 10°F.
4. Is asthma worse in winter?
Asthma is a chronic condition that does not go away. However, asthma triggers differ from person to person. For those with cold-weather asthma, cold dry air can irritate their airways and cause bronchial spasms. There is also an increased risk of contracting a respiratory virus during the winter. A cold orflu can make asthma more difficult to manage.
5. Is cold or hot air better for asthma?
What is Aluna?
Ways To Keep Asthma In Check During A Cold
For people with asthma, getting a cold or the flu can increase the risk of having an asthma attack. Try these simple asthma self-care steps to protect yourself when you get a cold.
Over the course of the year, Americans will have over one billion colds. For many people, getting sick is just a nuisance, but if you have asthma, you may have a harder time getting through a cold or the flu. A University of Michigan study finds that the reason for this may have more to do with your immune system your body’s defense system against foreign invaders than the actual effects of cold and flu viruses.
“People with asthma have a more ‘exuberant’ immune response to cold and flu viruses. That not only makes their cold and flu symptoms worse, it also may trigger an asthma attack,” says David A. Neumeyer, MD, a pulmonary specialist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass.
Here’s how to better protect yourself from getting a cold or the flu, and how to keep your asthma in check if you do get sick.
Can Breathing In Cold Air Cause An Asthma Attack
Thats because dry and cold air can lead to airway narrowing, which can trigger an asthma attack. When you breathe in frosty air through your mouth, it doesnt warm up in your nasal passages. This arctic blast travels straight into your lungs and airways, causing coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.
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Find Balance With Symptoms And Seasonality
I have allergy symptoms year-round, from dust mites, pollen, pets, and mold. Ive learned that maintaining a comfortable humidity level is important to ensure my health and reduce my symptoms.
Its impossible to manage the humidity outdoors, and sometimes we cant control where we live due to jobs and family.
However, we can control the humidity level inside our homes. Ive realized that having high humidity or really low humidity doesnt help my allergy symptoms.
I feel best when the humidity is kept at the 30-50% range where I dont feel too dry and I dont feel too stuffy. If its too high, sometimes Ill break out in eczema from dust mites.
During spring and autumn seasons, I find the humidity levels are preferred indoors and outdoors, however, its the summer and winter where humidity levels increase and decrease outside of the 30-50% range.
When this occurs I use a humidifier and a dehumidifier to add or remove moisture from the air. These are my picks for best dehumidifier for allergies.
People tend to spend more time indoors in the summer and winter so these devices can really help. It wont change the outside humidity but it can help make the inside of your home much more comfortable.
A humidifier and dehumidifier also helped me sleep better without feeling too dry or too sweaty.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Asthma In Children
Common childhood asthma signs and symptoms include: Frequent coughing that worsens when your child has a viral infection, occurs while your child is asleep or is triggered by exercise or cold air Childhood asthma might also cause: Trouble sleeping due to shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
Work with your doctor to develop a plan of action to prevent getting a cold or the flu, and know what to do at the first signs you or your child may be getting sick. Prompt treatment can help ease symptoms and prevent a mild asthma flare-up from progressing to a severe asthma attack.
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How Caffeine Can Affect Asthma
In 2010, I started writing about asthmas history. This was when I was introduced to Dr. Henry Hyde Salter. He was the doctor of Teddy Roosevelt during the 1870s when the former President was a child asthmatic. He wrote a book called, On Asthma. It was the most well-respected book on asthma during the second half of the 19th century. So, whatever Dr. Salter believed about asthma became the gold standard.1
He had many hypotheses about asthma, the most famous of which was that asthma was a nervous disorder. He also believed that asthma was brought on by sleep. He had already heard about caffeine as an asthma remedy from his many asthma patients. He speculated that it worked for asthma because of its stimulant effect. He wrote:1
For, what are the physiological effects of coffee? They consist in the production of a state of mental activity and vivacity, of acuteness of perception and energy of volition, well known to those who have experienced it, and to a certain extent very pleasurable, and which is the very reverse of that abeyance of will and perception which, in drowsiness or sleep, so favors the development of asthma.
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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.
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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?
Its 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:
How To Recognize Early Asthma Attack Symptoms
Common symptoms of asthma:
- Chest tightness
- Breathing rapidly
An asthma attack occurs when these symptoms intensify. Recognizing these symptoms as they worsen can prevent an attack from becoming life-threatening.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, five things happen during an asthma attack:
- The airway branches become more sensitive and react to things that may trigger an asthma attack.
- The lining of the lungs swells, becoming more and more inflamed.
- Mucus begins to clog the airways.
- Bronchospasm occurs, which is when the muscles surrounding the airways tighten.
- It becomes increasingly more difficult to move air through the airways.
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Identify And Avoid Your Triggers
Its important to identify possible asthma triggers by making a note of where you are and what youre 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.
Youll have regular contact with your doctor or asthma nurse to monitor your condition.
These appointments may involve:
- talking about your symptoms for example, if theyre 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
Its 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 youre not sure what to do.
What To Do If You Have Flu Symptoms
If you have flu symptoms or are exposed to someone with the flu, contact your doctor right away. There are anti-viral treatments for the flu that can lesson symptoms. But you have to take them within two days of getting sick.
Like COVID-19, call your doctor before walking into their office if you have symptoms or have been exposed to the flu.
At the first sign of symptoms, start following the Yellow Zone on your Asthma Action Plan.
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How To Reduce The Spread Of Covid
What can you do to reduce your chances of getting sick? To stop the spread of coronavirus, wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, wear a face mask, keep a physical distance from other people, limit your trips away from home, and increase air flow in your indoor environment. The good news is these same steps can also reduce the spread of the flu, colds and other types of respiratory illnesses.
If you have asthma, keeping your asthma under control can reduce your chances of having a severe asthma episode or attack if you get sick.
If you do get sick, get plenty of rest, drink water and follow your Asthma Action Plan if you have asthma. Reduce your chance of spreading illness to others by limiting contact, washing your hands often and wearing a face mask or covering.
Always contact your doctor about any severe or concerning symptoms, no matter what. And go to the emergency department or call 911 for emergency signs and symptoms.
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.
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What Happens To The Lungs During An Asthma Attack
During an asthma attack, the airways become very inflamed and sensitive in response to a certain irritant or asthma trigger. When this happens, the muscles in the airways tighten up and restrict air flow to the lungs. In addition to swelling and inflammation, the cells in the airways often produce much more mucus than they usually do, which can cause the airways to become even more blocked. Limited oxygen can cause the individual to become weak, light-headed, and very tired.
In severe cases, if the oxygen flow through the airways is not somehow improved, the individual could die.
What Can I Do To Make It Easier To Breathe When Its Humid Outside
When its hot and humid outside, there are some things you can do to try and lessen the effects on your asthma.Lessen other asthma irritants by avoiding things that you know will trigger your asthma. For example, perfumes, aerosols, and smoking.
Here are some tips on how to cope with both humidity and asthma during the warmer months:
- Stay on top of your preventive medicines and talk to your doctor right away if they dont seem to be effective.
- Install a dehumidifier in your home or purchase a portable one. Set it to keep your home between 30 and 50 percent.
- Stay indoors/keep on your air conditioner as much as possible. This keeps the air moving in your home and help prevents the mold from growing and dust mites from breeding.
- Avoid strenuous exercise outdoors during the hottest and most humid times.
Having asthma can make catching your breath a bit tougher in the summertime, but if you are armed with a little knowledge and some common sense, you can muddle through just fine.
Are there any tips we missed? Be sure to share them with us if so.
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