Asthma is a chronic lung condition that affects about 25 million Americans. Having asthma makes the airways in your lungs (bronchial tubes) inflamed,hypersensitive and prone to episodes of gradual or abrupt spasm or further narrowing. . When your airways become more inflamed, they get narrower, breathing becomes difficult, and you may suffer an asthma attack.
A few of the most common asthma triggers are smoke, allergens, and exercise — but did you know that changing seasons can worsen your asthma symptoms, too?
Fall and winter weather in particular make attacks more likely for many asthma sufferers, and there are a few reasons why. As asthma specialists, David Kamelhar, MD, Eric Teller, MD, and our team at Kamelhar-Teller Pulmonology are here to answer your questions.
Reasons why asthma gets worse in winter
If you have asthma, your bronchial tubes are hypersensitive to airborne irritants and triggers. Inhaling an irritant makes your airways swell up and increase mucus production. Allergens may cause inflammation as well. Narrower airways and extra mucus makes breathing difficult, and you experience symptoms like wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
Asthma attacks can happen any time of year. However, fall and winter can make asthma symptoms worse due to cold air and greater likelihood of respiratory infections.
When the air you breathe is cooler, your asthma symptoms might get worse. That’s because cold air often makes your airways swell and constrict. Cold air also tends to be dry, which triggers extra mucus production in your lungs and further narrows your airways.
Exercising outside in the winter may exacerbate the effects of cold air. Both exercise and cold air are common asthma triggers on their own, and you may find that you’re unable to exercise outdoors in wintertime because it’s too difficult to catch your breath.
Along with cold air, respiratory infections are more common in winter months. People are spending more time indoors, which increases community spread of illnesses like the common cold and the flu.
Colds and the flu cause respiratory symptoms including increased mucus production and nasal congestion, and may even lead to upper respiratory infections and sinus infections as well as bronchial.. If you have asthma, these common winter illnesses can make asthma symptoms worse.
How to manage cold-weather asthma
If you have asthma, it’s important to start managing your symptoms before the weather turns cold. A combination of lifestyle adjustments and medication is effective for most people with asthma, and Dr. Kamelhar and Dr. Teller work with you to find the right methods for you.
We may prescribe asthma medication for you to take daily to help control your symptoms in a preventive way. Another option is fast-acting medication to take only when you have a asthma attack.
Getting a flu shot each fall can help you avoid respiratory illness in the winter. Regular hand washing is a very effective way to avoid catching an infection, especially if you are in contact with other people who are sick.
If cold air makes your asthma worse, consider staying indoors when temperatures drop below freezing. Some individuals have breathing difficulty in cooler temperature that is in the 40’s or even 50’s. Wear a scarf over your nose and mouth when you go outside to help warm the air you breathe. Limit exercising outside in the winter, and make sure you carry a rescue inhaler with you. Using a rescue inhaler before going out on a cold day may be useful as well.
Fall and winter can make your asthma flare up, but proactive asthma management can help you navigate the changing seasons. Call our office in Midtown East, New York City, at 212-685-6611 or request an appointment online to learn more about your asthma treatment options.