Stepping outside to cold, dry air that smacks you in the face can make the later fall months and winter dreary seasons. For people with asthma, the cold weather can trigger or worsen their symptoms. It can irritate hypersensitive lungs causing inflammation and bronchospasm. The muscles around the irritated bronchial tubes become constricted and more narrow, making it more difficult to breathe. An increase of mucus in the lungs can limit breathing, resulting in wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest.
We have compiled a list of best practices to identify and treat asthma in cold, dry air.
Why Does Cold Air Affect Asthma Symptoms?
Cold air triggers asthma symptoms for different reasons:
Cold air is dry. When you breathe in dry air, the fluid lining your airways evaporates faster than it can be replaced. This friction creates irritation and swelling in your airways, which worsens asthma symptoms. Cold air also causes your airways to produce histamine, a chemical produced in your body as a defense mechanism to allergy attack.
Cold air increases mucus. Your airways are lined with a layer of protective mucus. In cold, dry weather, your body produces more mucus than normal. The extra mucus makes you more susceptible to catching a cold or other infections.
Cold air drives you indoors. Colds, influenza, and other respiratory infections circulate more frequently during weather changes and cold weather. These infections often set off asthma symptoms.
Cold air can also drive you indoors, where dust, mold and allergy triggers live. These allergens set off asthma symptoms, as well.
How to Prevent Asthma Attacks in Cold-Weather Months
To protect yourself from asthma attacks during the chilly weather, here are preventative measures to take:
Wash your hands. Washing your hands with soap and water is one of the simplest and best ways to avoid the spreading of germs and catching colds and other infections. If water is not accessible, alcohol-based hand sanitizers also work.
Get a flu shot. Having asthma won’t make you more susceptible to the flu, but if you do get the flu, the effects could be more serious. People with asthma should get the injectable form of the flu vaccination, not the nasal spray vaccine.
Keep your mouths closed. Keeping your mouth closed is proper etiquette, but it is also better for your lungs. Ideally, you want to breathe through your nose, especially when you are out in the cold because it helps warm up your lungs. Another way to warm and humidify the air you breathe is covering up with a scarf or jacket over your nose and mouth.
Replace air filters. Your home heating system may accumulate dust and debris throughout the house, especially when running. It is important to clean and replace filters regularly so dust and debris do not trigger an asthma attack.
Exercise indoors. Cold, dry weather can be problematic for people with asthma, increasing constricted airways and breathing difficulties. On days when it is bitterly cold outside, exercise indoors where the temperatures and humidity is less likely to cause an asthma attack.
Create an asthma action plan. You should always know what to do if your asthma symptoms flare up. Your action plan should include how to control your asthma, what to do if you have an asthma attack, the name and contact of your doctor, and when to go to the ER.
Take your medications. Consult with your doctor or asthma specialist to create an effective treatment plan, and schedule regular checkups. It is important to follow your treatment plan as instructed – regardless of the time of year. If you find your asthma symptoms worsen in the cold climate, talk with your doctor about changing your treatment plan. Keep your asthma under control and at bay.
Schedule a Consultation
Asthma and cold air are unpleasant when combined. If your child is suffering from asthma in cold weather, it may be time to discuss a prevention and treatment plan with your doctor. Join our many satisfied patients, and schedule an appointment with Dr. Shukla today, for treatment options.