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.
Weather-induced asthma: the winter link
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:
- Frosty temps: “Cold air irritates the airways,” Dr. Thakur explains. That icy winter air can cause swelling in the airways, which makes them narrower. Cold temperatures can also cause the muscles around the airway to clamp down, making it even harder for air to pass through.
- Dry air: In winter, air tends to be extra dry. That’s also true indoors, where the air is warmed by a busy furnace. Like cold air, very dry air can irritate the airways.
- Flu season: “The winter season also brings more exposure to cold and flu viruses,” Dr. Thakur says. “A lot of kids have viral-induced asthma, which means they can experience an asthma attack as a result of a respiratory infection.”
- Indoor allergens: When the mercury dips outside, people tend to spend more time indoors. For some people, that means more encounters with indoor asthma triggers like pet dander, dust mites and tobacco smoke.
Seven ways to deal with cold-weather asthma
Asthma doesn’t mean you have to face a bleak winter. You can take steps to reduce cold-weather asthma attacks.
1. Limit exposure
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.
2. Take your meds
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.”
3. Bundle up
A warm scarf tied over your child’s mouth and nose can make the air they breathe a little less cold and dry.
4. Just add water
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.
5. Stay well
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.
6. Adjust activities
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.
7. Ask for help
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.”