Cozy blankets. Hot cocoa. Snow days. Winter has more than a few things going for it. But if you or your child has asthma, the winter season can also bring extra worry. “For some people, cold weather can trigger asthma attacks,” says pediatrician Roopa Thakur, MD.
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However, with a little planning, you can make sure that you breathe easier during the coldest months.
Asthma causes the airways to swell and narrow. When people with asthma are exposed to triggers — which make asthma symptoms worse — they might cough, wheeze or have trouble breathing. For many people, cold air is a common asthma trigger.
Dr. Thakur says winter can be problematic for people with asthma because of:
Asthma doesn’t mean you have to face a bleak winter. You can take steps to reduce cold-weather asthma attacks.
If your kiddo coughs every time cold air hits their lungs, try to keep outside time to a minimum. “Limit time outside as best you can,” Dr. Thakur says.
It’s always important to take asthma medications as prescribed. But that’s especially true in the winter.
“Inhaled steroids are medications that should be taken daily to reduce inflammation, even when you (or your child) feels good,” Dr. Thakur explains. “It’s especially important to use them regularly in the winter if you’re sensitive to the cold.”
A warm scarf tied over your child’s mouth and nose can make the air they breathe a little less cold and dry.
Using a humidifier at bedtime can help put a little moisture back into the winter air. (Just make sure to clean humidifiers regularly to avoid mold, which can be an asthma trigger.) Saline nasal sprays can also help moisten dried-out nasal passages, Dr. Thakur says.
To avoid viral infections, steer clear of people with colds or the flu. Get in the habit of frequent hand washing to keep germs at bay.
People with exercise-induced asthma — when strenuous exercise causes airways to narrow — tend to be sensitive to the cold, too. Try to limit physical activity when you’re out in the chilly air.
If you’re feeling anxious about asthma as winter winds blow in, contact your doctor or your child’s pediatrician for help, Dr. Thakur says. “Always get in touch whenever you have questions,” she says. “We can help you manage symptoms so you can enjoy the season.”