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 Causes Cold Weather Asthma
An estimated 300 million people worldwide suffer from asthma, according to the World Health Organization. Different people may have different triggers that can cause asthma flare-ups. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology lists cold weather as one of the more common causes that can lead to asthma.1 Some of the causes of winter asthma include:
When Should You Seek Medical Treatment
Its important to know when your symptoms may be beyond your care. Seek medical treatment if your symptoms feel out of control and no longer within self-help range. Some warning signs may also be if you experience a new cough, produce a lot of phlegm, or have a fever higher than 101 F.
If you feel that youre experiencing an asthma emergency or symptoms beyond your control, seek immediate care.
Pre-treatment can go a long way in preventing asthma flare-ups, says Dr. Canfield. If one does feel like their asthma is out of control, contacting the doctor is a good idea because the symptoms can go from bad to worse.
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Get The Right Asthma Treatment Today
The world is already witness to all the changes coming from climate change. Unfortunately, such adverse changes to the air can cause an increase in respiratory issues as well. Kids with asthma are prone to more attacks and more severe symptoms due to the conditions caused by climate change.
Schedule an appointment with your certified sleep specialist today and create a prevention plan to help your loved one stay comfortable and healthy. No matter what other conditions may come as a result of climate change, you can invest in the best treatment options with a professional and experienced team.
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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.
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What Are Some Resources To Help Me Track The Weather
Accuweather/AAFA personalized respiratory forecast Visit Accuweather.com for a personalized asthma forecast for your area. Enter your location. Then from the Personalized Forecasts drop-down menu, choose Respiratory. The Accuweather/AAFA forecast will show asthma alerts along with your forecast. The page also includes tips from AAFA on managing weather-related asthma issues.
AirNow The Environmental Protection Agencys site on air quality gives your areas Air Quality Index . Based on the AQI, you can tell if air quality could affect your asthma. An AQI of 101 or above is dangerous for those with asthma. You can also sign up to get daily email alerts.
National Allergy Bureau Sign up to receive email alerts or download the app from the AAAAI to alert you of your areas pollen counts.
Pollen.com Enter your zip code to get local pollen forecasts and pollen history.
Are There More Advanced Treatments For Severe Uncontrolled Asthma Symptoms
Advanced asthma treatments include medicines called biologics, which are made from natural substances. These drugs help by reducing your bodys reaction to asthma triggers and controlling inflammation.
If your asthma is not controlled with steroids or other methods, bronchial thermoplasty may be an option. Doctors use an electrode to heat the inside of your airways. This procedure helps relax the airways to help you breathe easier.
When in doubt, its always best to ask for help. When left untreated, uncontrolled asthma can cause long-term damage to your lungs that can make it even more difficult to breathe.
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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.
The Difference In Asthma And Common Cold Symptoms
Its best to start with what symptoms are not caused by asthma. Asthma doesnt cause fever, chills, achy muscles, or sore throat, so any one of these is cause for concern as they indicate something else is going on and are a good sign you should see a doctor. If you or your child experience these symptoms dont write them off as asthma. They could be the sign of a serious respiratory infection.
On the other hand, typical asthma symptoms are frequent or chronic coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and a tight feeling in your chest. If youre experiencing any of these, or you have a loved one who is, a doctor visit may be in order to rule out chronic asthma. These symptoms may feel like the start of a cold, or even the flu, but its important that asthma sufferers understand and recognize the difference in order to get proper treatment. Its also important to be able to differentiate between something like seasonal allergies and the common cold, as allergens can greatly increase your risk of an asthma attack.
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How To Keep Your Asthma Under Control In The Cold
An asthma attack occurs when your bronchial tubes 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 bodys 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
Your primary care physician may also recommend you receive a pneumonia vaccine for added protection.
How Air Conditioners Cause Asthma
Many physicians have come out to warn people against spending long hours in air-conditioned rooms to avoid triggering asthma attacks. As your air conditioner operates, it blows the small particles in the air which you later inhale unknowingly. Continuous running of the HVAC system triggers the growth of mold on surfaces of the home and subsequently leading to allergies, pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
It is worth noting that regular HVAC maintenance is significant. A clean and sufficiently running AC ensure that air being blown is cold and fresh. Humidity control, proper filtration and adequate ventilation all contribute to healthy indoor air quality.
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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 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.
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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.
Weather Changes And Asthma
Often a change in the weather, rather than a certain temperature, can act as an asthma trigger.
Spring and autumn, in particular, are times when many people find their asthma symptoms get worse.
Winter can also be a troublesome time for people with asthma however this is often due to colds and flu rather the weather itself.
What to do if you think the weather may affect your asthma:
- Take extra care to take your medication as prescribed throughout the seasons you find affect you.
- Take your usual dose of reliever inhaler before going out on cold, dry days.
- Wear a scarf over your face if its cold and windy. This will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in.
- Try to avoid going out in the middle of the day on hot, smoggy days.
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Is Cold Air Good For Asthma
Cold air is bad for most people with asthma as it tends to irritate the bronchial tubes and trigger asthma symptoms.
If you have asthma, it may be best for you to stay indoors as much as possible during cold winter weather. Be sure to monitor indoor air quality and install HEPA filters in your ventilation systems. Watch for signs of mold and remove it as quickly as possible. Install dust mite-proof pillows and mattress covers in your bedding. Consider buying an air purifier or air cleaner to help remove pet dander and other allergens from your indoor air.
Modern homes have better windows and insulation. They are less drafty and conserve heat better. But that means bedding, furniture, carpets and curtains can hold on to moisture, encouraging dust mites to breed. Keep your home below 50% humidity and use dehumidifiers to help keep dust mites from breeding. When the weather allows, open your windows for one hour per day to reduce humidity in the house.
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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.
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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.
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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