Sniff. Cough. Sneeze.
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Cold weather can be tough on all of us, but if you have asthma, winter can literally take your breath away.
For many people, asthma is harder to control during winter months, for a few reasons. First, the cold, dry air can irritate your airways and cause the muscles inside to spasm. Then there’s all those cold and flu viruses going around. A cold or respiratory tract infection can exacerbate asthma symptoms .
But there are a few things people with asthma can do to keep themselves as healthy as possible. “Simple stuff always makes the biggest difference,” says pulmonologist Emily Pennington, MD.
Here are a few steps she suggests — including some you can start now.
Get your flu vaccine. And for the best protection throughout flu season, get it before the end of October, Dr. Pennington says. She also recommends talking to your doctor about whether you need a pneumonia vaccine.
Limit outside exercise. Even people without asthma sometimes experience shortness of breath when they exercise in cold weather. If you have asthma, indoor activities like taking a fitness class or swimming may be better options.
Sport a scarf. Covering your mouth when you’re outside will help protect your airways by warming the air before you breathe it in.
Invest in a humidifier. Even indoors, the air can be dry, so a humidifier may help ease breathing. Just be sure the reservoirs and filters are clean.
Keep those hands clean. When you wash them, do so for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when you’re out and about.
Also, keep them away from your face. That’s how we transfer cold and flu viruses, Dr. Pennington says. They get on our hands by touching, say, a door handle, and then into our bodies through our mouth or nose or eyes.
Talk to your doctor before cold and flu season. “Make sure you have your asthma action plan in place,” Dr. Pennington says. “That way, if you do get sick, you know what to do before your symptoms get really severe.”