Author: Anna Luc, M.D.
After the heat and humidity of summer, the colder weather in fall and winter can be a nice welcomed change. Wintertime also often evokes warm memories of holidays and family gatherings. However, for many people with asthma, wintertime can be challenging in managing their symptoms.
What exactly is asthma? Asthma is a medical condition where the airways in your lungs constrict, making it difficult to breathe. People with asthma also may find themselves wheezing or coughing. The constriction is reversible and caused by certain triggers, which can range from dust to exercise to the weather. In other words, the lungs are hypersensitive and react to what should be harmless triggers. Sometimes, other illness or infections, including the common cold, can set off an asthma attack.
Why do some people have more asthma attacks during winter? There are actually many reasons. First of all, the cold weather itself can be a trigger for asthma, by making the airways more likely to constrict and swell. People might also find themselves exposed to asthma triggers such as dust, scents, tobacco smoke, or pet dander as they stay indoors more frequently during winter. Also wintertime may bring about cold and flu season as well.
Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to prevent or decrease the risk of an asthma attack during winter. People with asthma should also take care to limit exposure to triggers. For instance, getting the flu vaccine, wearing masks, avoiding sick contacts are ways to reduce the risk of getting sick. Other steps may include using a humidifier to warm the air, cutting down on smoke exposure or smoking, and avoiding scents from perfumes or essential oils.
It is also important to contact your physician so that you and your doctor can determine the medications appropriate for your symptoms. Rescue inhalers serve to open the airways quickly for rapid relief if you are feeling short of breath. There are also medications such as steroid inhalers which you take every day to keep your symptoms from getting worse. It is a good idea to keep close track of your medications and symptoms so your doctor can appropriately adjust your medication regimen if necessary, and to know the appropriate technique for using your inhalers if they are prescribed.
Finally, asthma attacks can be extremely dangerous and may require emergency treatment if the patient ever experiences extreme shortness of breath, wheezing, or cough. Do not hesitate to seek emergency care if you ever feel unstable with your symptoms.
Dr. Luc is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.