Asthma also know as lung disease, is a chronic condition that affects nearly 25 million people in America. It’s a respiratory disease that makes breathing difficult and often comes with lung spasms, wheezing, and chest tightness.
Asthma sufferers, winter can be the most difficult time of the year. Cold, dry air and sudden shifts in the weather can irritate your airways, causing you to produce more mucus. It doesn’t always help to stay indoors, as this can lead to an increase in respiratory illnesses like colds and flu.
When you add it all up, the colder months can be a recipe for flare-ups, with severe asthma symptoms that can become uncontrolled. As a pulmonary nurse practitioner at the Temple Lung Center, I’m going to shed more light on why the cold triggers asthma symptoms and what you can do to find relief.
It’s hard to have complete control on the air you breathe considering that changes in your outdoor and indoor environments vary from season to season. And winter comes with quite a few asthma triggers, with cold air itself being a common trigger for most asthmatics. Exposure to these triggers can cause asthma flareups where significant inflammation in lungs are accompanied by bronchospasms .
For individuals with asthma, winter isn’t the time to leave home underdressed. Keeping yourself warm helps reduce your risk of asthma flares. It’s wise to bundle up based on outside temperatures. During winter months, wear a warm coat, scarf, hat, and gloves.
It also helps to cover your mouth and nose with your scarf or a mask. Doing so helps warm the cold air as you inhale, which lowers your risk of irritating your airway.
Along with cold air, other triggers during winter range from pollen, mould, dampness and dust mites to exposure to chest infections as well as common cold and flu viruses. In fact, seasonal flu which is a common characteristic of winter is one of the most critical triggers for exacerbated asthma symptoms as well as flareups. An asthmatic exposed to cold and flu viruses, runs a greater risk of that infection developing into pneumonia. Therefore it is important to be aware and able to identify possible triggers and communicate them to your doctor so that appropriate action as well as precautions can be taken.
Some people breathe through their mouths out of habit. However, if you have asthma, it’s important that you breathe through your nose when the temperatures are cold outside. Breathing through your mouth during cold weather allows the cold air to rush into your lungs, which can trigger an asthma attack.
When you breathe in air through your nostrils, structures in your nose humidify and warm the air as it moves through the nasal cavity. Because the air is then warmer when it reaches your lungs, the risk of irritating your airway is lower.
It’s 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 you’re experiencing an asthma emergency or symptoms beyond your control, seek immediate care.
If you have asthma, you already know prevention is your best strategy. Go back to the basics:
Drink a lot of water, broth-based soups and decaffeinated tea to keep yourself hydrated.
Wash your hands often in soap and water to prevent respiratory illnesses such as the cold and flu.
Dress warmly when you go out. Keep a scarf, gloves and extra jacket in your car just in case.
Breathe through your nose when you’re outside. Your nasal passages warm the air before it moves into your lungs.
Get the flu vaccine, which will lower your risk of getting this year’s flu.
Carry your inhaler with you all the time.
Find alternative ways to exercise if you usually exercise outdoors. Make sure the place where you exercise has good air circulation.