Do you avoid leaving the house when it’s cold outside? Asthma sufferers understand more than others that a change in temperature can impact your lungs. A sudden change in weather can be an asthma trigger for some people.
Simply speaking, when cold air enters the airways, it can trigger a spasm. This swelling or narrowing of the airway makes it much harder to take in air, which causes symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. So what about winter weather causes this to happen?
Cold Air is Dry
Dry air can irritate your airways, causing the thin layer of fluid lining your airways to evaporate as you breathe in. Cold air also causes your airways to produce histamine, the same chemical your body generates during an allergic attack. When you breathe in cold, dry air through your mouth, the air doesn’t get warmed by your nose first. The cold air goes to your lungs and airways. This can trigger an asthma attack. Breathing through your mouth is more likely when you exercise or exert yourself – such as shoveling snow or skiing.
Follow these steps for reducing your chances of having asthma symptoms triggered by cold air:
- Bundle up when outdoors. Wear a scarf or face mask over your mouth when you do go outside. Breathing in through your nose instead of your mouth also helps warm the air.
- Think about pre-treatment. If you do need to be outdoors in cold weather, you may need to use your quick-relief inhaler before you go outdoors. Talk with your doctor about a pretreatment plan.
- Stay indoors. If you normally exercise outdoors, consider an indoor sport for the winter, like swimming or basketball.
Managing Asthma in the Winter
Staying indoors during winter may protect you from the cold air, but can still increase your asthma symptoms! Inside your home, you may be exposed to more indoor air pollutants, such as dust mite droppings, chemical off-gassing from cleaning products, or particulates and fumes from cooking. Increased time at home means more exposure and you’re also in closer proximity to friends, coworkers and family, which means germs spread faster, which can be especially problematic for those with viral-induced asthma.
While it is impossible to avoid all asthma attacks, but knowing a few things can help you make good decisions about what is best for you.
- Although you may benefit from the fresh air outside your home, try to stay indoors when the temperature drops well below freezing, especially if it’s below 10°F (-12.2°C).
- Keep your written asthma action plan up-to-date – and actually, use it! Keep it visible and easy to reference for friends and family.
- If spending more time indoors and at home, make sure to vacuum regularly to remove indoor triggers and allergens. Use a vacuum that is genuine HEPA certified.
- Wash your blankets and sheets with increased frequency, and use hot water! Every week is best to ensure you’re removing all dust mites.
Finally: Take Your Doctor’s Advice!
There’s no substitute for professional medical help. Your asthma and its triggers are specific to you, so make sure to visit your doctor or asthma nurse regularly to review any medications you are on and to keep your asthma plan up-to-date. Carry your inhaler with you at all times.
For more useful tips, read our article: Is Your Indoor Air Worsening Your Asthma?
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Our guide on indoor quality will help you diagnose possible issues and implement intelligent solutions to improve the quality of the air inside your home.