Winter’s cold, dry air can wreak havoc on your skin and hair, but for people with asthma it can be downright dangerous. FMH Respiratory Care Manager Lanette Battles says there are three main problems for asthmatics during the cold weather months:
- People stay inside, where triggers are more prevalent.
- The cold weather can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
- The common cold becomes even more common.
The first problem, being inside more often, is hard to avoid. Even if we’re not stuck in an offshoot of the polar vortex at the moment, winter’s chill is likely to keep most of us hunkered down until spring arrives.
If you’re an asthma sufferer, make sure you know your triggers (some of the most common are molds, pet dander, dust mites and smoke from fireplaces) and do your best to avoid them.
“You may want to snuggle under the covers with your cat or dog when the weather is cold, but if you know pet dander is a trigger for your asthma you’ll need to resist that urge,” says Battles. “At the very least, keep pets out of your bedroom.”
You’ll also want to make sure your home is kept at a comfortable temperature and humidity level (the sweet spot is about 35-50%). If smoke is a known asthma trigger, you’ll want to keep some distance between yourself and that cozy fire or wood stove to limit your exposure. If you’re using a humidifier, make sure you’re not overdoing it; high humidity causes mold and mildew growth — another possible trigger.
If it’s not indoor triggers causing problems, it’s the cold air outside. The cold air can cause airway constriction, which can turn into an asthma attack very quickly.
“Use a scarf to cover your mouth when you’re outside to keep the air you breathe as close to the indoor temperature as possible,” says Battles. “Stick with your exercise routine, but work out at the gym or at home to reduce your exposure to cold air.”
In addition to airway constriction, winter’s cold, dry air can also dry the mucus membranes in your lungs. That can make asthma sufferers more susceptible to infections (which are yet another common asthma trigger). Battles prescribes an ounce of prevention on this point.
“Frequent handwashing is a key to cold and infection prevention for everyone, but people with asthma need to be particularly vigilant,” she says.