For many of the 25 million people with asthma, controlling it during the cold winter months can be difficult.
People with asthma may experience worse symptoms during winter or be more likely to have an asthma attack because they’re spending more time indoors, they’re more likely to get a cold or the flu, and the air outside is cold and dry.
“The cold, dry air outside can trigger asthma, but staying indoors more with the windows closed around dust mites, mold, pet dander and other allergens can also cause asthma to flare up,” said Anthony Wylie, D.O., a primary care physician at Geisinger Mt. Pleasant. “In addition, when someone with asthma gets a cold or the flu, it can trigger an asthma attack.”
Asthma is a chronic lung condition where irritants can cause the airways in your lungs to become inflamed and swollen, making it harder to breathe. Your lungs might also produce mucus as a result, which can further narrow your airways.
If you have asthma, you might experience periods of wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. These symptoms sometimes go away on their own; however, people with asthma often use a long-term medication to control ongoing symptoms, as well as a short-term rescue inhaler for symptoms that appear quickly.
“The key to dealing with asthma during the winter months is understanding your triggers and planning for them,” said Dr. Wylie. Here are some things you can do to keep your asthma symptoms at bay during the cold winter months.
1. Breathe through your nose
It seems like simple advice, but breathing through your nose can actually prevent you from beginning to wheeze, feel short of breath or experience tightening in your chest. When you breathe through your nose, as opposed to your mouth, the air warms before it reaches your lungs.
2. Wear a scarf around your mouth when outside
Similarly, wearing a scarf or other cover over your mouth or nose when you’re out in the cold can help to warm the air that you breathe. This can also help you have a better workout if you want to exercise outside.
3. Clean frequently
Keeping your living space free of dust, dander and mold can help you keep asthma at bay during the cold months when your windows are closed.
“Replacing filters in your furnace is a good way to keep your air free of dirt and dust that irritates your lungs and causes flare-ups,” said Dr. Wylie.
4. Get a flu shot
People with asthma are not more likely to get the flu; however they are more likely to face flu-related complications if they get it. The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu.
5. Work out indoors
When the temperature drops, consider taking your exercise regimen indoors to prevent asthma symptoms. The air in your home or gym is likely to be more humid and better for breathing than the cold air outside.
6. Create an action plan
To keep your asthma under control during the winter months, it’s important to work with your doctor on a medication plan should symptoms arise.
“Talk to your doctor before cold temperatures arrive so you know how to treat your asthma if it flares up,” said Dr. Wylie. “If you notice your symptoms are getting worse or you’re experiencing them more frequently, you should see your doctor again.”