If you have asthma, you likely understand the conditions and environments that may trigger your symptoms. As winter approaches and temperatures start to drop, those triggers may evolve or worsen.
“Anyone who has asthma can have worse symptoms than they may have had in the summer months,” says Hemant Shah, MD, medical director of respiratory care and the ICU at Kettering Medical Center. “The winter can make asthma a bit different, which can be challenging.”
Asthma attacks can occur as a result of small changes to your lifestyle such as spending more time indoors.
“Asthma has a lot of triggers, some of which are indoors like pets, pet dander, dust, and mites,” Dr. Shah says. “These can be worse when you are near them for a longer time.”
Dr. Shah also says the cold air itself can trigger asthma attacks, and those attacks may last longer and be more challenging to treat.
With the cold air comes a circulation of viruses such as influenza and the common cold. These kinds of illnesses can make asthmatics more prone to attacks and can lead to complications including a longer, more difficult time recovering.
With these winter-specific triggers in mind, there are steps you can take to prevent seasonal asthma complications.
“Recognize that asthma could be different in the winter and be more cognizant,” Dr. Shah says.
Some people with asthma may be monitoring their ability to push air out of the lungs with a peak flow meter. Those who do this and typically see their flow at 100 percent should see their doctor for a medication adjustment if they begin to see their flow consistently dropping below 80 percent.
If you have asthma and don’t use a peak flow meter, pay attention to any changes in your symptoms, such as an increase in coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath, especially when doing activities that generally don’t cause a flare in symptoms.
In addition to being aware of your symptoms and consulting your doctor if you feel you may need adjustments to your treatment plan, you should also protect yourself from common viruses and other illnesses. Be sure to get your flu shot and wash your hands, avoid touching your face, and stay away from anyone who appears to be ill.
Aside from management with medication and preventing illness, it’s essential to maintain a regular exercise routine and continue to eat healthily.
“People tend not to exercise as much in the winter when they can’t go outside,” Dr. Shah says. “Try to keep up with that as best as you can indoors.”
Other strategies include ensuring the filters in your heater are changed and clean and reducing your exposure to wood-burning fireplaces.
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