Dealing with Asthma in the Cold Winter Months

Cold, dry air can be taxing on the healthiest of lungs, but if you have asthma, stepping outside on a chilly day can literally take your breath away. If your symptoms seem to worsen in the winter, you may have cold-induced asthma. This is when low humidity and falling temperatures irritate your airway, induce swelling, and cause muscle spasms. Breathing winter air can feel like a chore, and exercising in the cold may be all but impossible.

Staying indoors might seem like the solution, but dust, mold, and pet dander tend to accumulate in higher concentrations during the winter when windows and doors are shut tight. For some people, these allergens also trigger an asthma attack.

Then, there’s the fact that winter is cold and flu season. If you get sick, your airway may become clogged with excessive mucus, exacerbating your asthma symptoms even more.

With so many problems stacked against you, it’s easy to feel helpless as an asthma sufferer in the winter. Thankfully, you have several options for keeping yourself healthy and well. Here’s what we recommend to ease your asthma symptoms in the cold winter months.

Limit Your Time Outside

If possible, stay indoors when the temperature drops, especially if it gets below 10 degrees F. When you do go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf. This warms the air before you breathe it in, making it less irritating to your airway and lungs.

Avoid Exercising Outdoors

Even people without asthma can experience shortness of breath when exercising in the cold. Do your lungs a favor this winter, and restrict yourself to indoor activities. You still have plenty of choices. For instance:

  • Exercise on a treadmill, elliptical machine, or stationary bike
  • Take a fitness or dance class
  • Swim in an indoor pool
  • Play basketball inside
  • Do yoga or other exercise routines in your living room

Even inside a warm building, you may experience exercise-induced asthma. To help prevent this, follow these tips:

  • Use your inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before starting your workout. This opens up your airway so you can breathe better.
  • Warm up for several minutes to gradually increase your heart rate.
  • Keep your inhaler nearby in case you have an asthma attack. This is characterized by shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, pain or tightness in your chest, and difficulty speaking.

Keep Your Home Clean

Follow these steps to reduce indoor allergens that can trigger an asthma attack in the winter:

  • Vacuum and dust at least once a week. Wear a dust mask, if necessary, or ask a family member to help out if these chores make you sneeze and cough.
  • Wash your bedding once a week in hot water to eliminate dust mites.
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom.
  • Consider replacing wall-to-wall carpeting with wood, tile, or laminate flooring.
  • Replace the furnace filter once a month.

Run a Humidifier

Furnaces have a drying effect on indoor air. You might notice that your skin feels itchy, lips feel chapped, and hair becomes frizzy as the height of winter approaches. Combat these symptoms—and help ease your breathing—by running a humidifier.

Inexpensive portable models can move from room to room, but the most important place to run a humidifier is in your bedroom while you sleep at night. Just be sure to follow the instructions for cleaning the water tank so it doesn’t harbor mold growth.

Make Efforts to Avoid Getting Sick

If you can prevent catching a cold or the flu, your asthma symptoms should remain more manageable this winter. Follow these tips to keep respiratory illnesses at bay:

  • Get a flu shot in the early fall to maximize your protection all winter long. While you’re at it, talk to your doctor about whether you need a pneumonia vaccine.
  • Avoid visiting people who are sick.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap frequently throughout the day.
  • Use hand sanitizer when you’re out and about. Don’t forget to wash your hands as soon as you get home.
  • Keep your hands away from your face to prevent germs from entering your body through your mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Drink extra fluids to keep the mucus in your lungs thinner, making it less likely for your airway to become blocked.

Begin a New Asthma Treatment

If you still struggle to keep your asthma symptoms under control, visit Allergy & Asthma SpecialistsSM to explore your treatment options. The doctors there can help develop a plan to meet your needs, which might include a combination of fast-acting inhalers, long-term prescription medication, and immunotherapy.

To learn more about dealing with asthma in the winter and all year-round, please call 610-825-5800 or schedule an appointment at one of Allergy & Asthma Specialists’ eight locations in the Philadelphia area.