One significant trigger that can affect asthmatics is the weather, especially during the winter months. Not only does the cool air make it harder for you to breath but also the level of viruses, such as the common cold and flu, are much higher. Here we look at asthma that is induced by the cold weather, how to prevent symptoms from occurring and how to treat an attack, should it materialise.
Damp weather and thunderstorms can all prompt asthmatic symptoms, leading to many issues during the winter months. For example, the damp encourages mould, which is another trigger of the condition. Symptoms can revolve around the throat including wheezy and hoarseness, which differentiates from a common cold. So how can you combat the winter months if it triggers asthmatic symptoms?
The airways of an asthmatic are very sensitive so it shouldn't come as a surprise that the majority of sufferers experience difficulty during the colder months. The typical symptoms include wheeziness, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. This can then develop into a lingering cough.
Winter-induced asthma can feel like a no-win situation. On the one hand, the coldness is irritating the airways. On the other hand, the air inside is perfect for harbouring viruses, often affecting the nose and throat.
Mucus is associated with the cold weather as symptoms of the common cold or flu, however, we produce mucus all year round as a protective layer around the airways. During the winter, we produce even more as a way to combat the cold weather, which can be thicker. This allows viruses to cling to our bodies and these can trigger symptoms of asthma, as well as making the airways narrower and therefore harder for you to breathe.
Many asthmatics find that they have a particularly nasty cough that is exacerbated by the common cold. This may linger for a time after the rest of the virus has cleared.
Colds are often unavoidable during the winter, especially when transferring your body from hot air-circulated areas to the cooler outdoors. With more sensitive airways, asthmatics are more susceptible to viruses.
Your breathing fastens when exercising to increase blood flow to the body. To help increase the flow in both asthmatics and non-asthmatics, your blood vessels in the nose are used to warm up the air you're breathing in. During the winter, these blood vessels don't warm up quickly enough, and for asthmatics, this can prompt some significant changes in your breathing.
In terms of your mouth, due to the air being dry, your airways struggle to transport enough air around the body. As your breathing quickens when exercising in the cold, your breath cannot warm up quickly enough causing the airways to become inflamed as it deals with the shock of cold air.
You will often feel the cold air making your airways feel dry and hoarse. For an asthmatic, these symptoms can be moderate to severe, sometimes causing an asthma attack.
The symptoms of asthma relating to the cold air may be one or both of these factors:
One of the most common causes of cold and flu viruses is the circulated air in our homes and workplaces. This can also take hold of your allergies to prompt asthma symptoms. Allergies include pets, dust, and mould.
This is also combined with your body not having a regulated warm temperature. It moves from central-heated areas often at a high temperature then back out in the cold; this allows viruses to spread.
Symptoms during the winter months can be more difficult to recognise, as the cold can be a cause in its own right. If you've fallen ill, you may find your asthma symptoms becoming more prevalent, especially the symptoms related to the throat and chest.
The cold weather is somewhat unavoidable, however, it is possible for you to prepare for the cooler months to limit your chances of experiencing an asthma attack.
Other small but effective prevention tactics include washing your hands to limit germs and avoiding contact with sick people when possible.
Many of these prevention techniques cannot be avoided 100% of the time, and ultimately the number of viruses can make falling ill somewhat inevitable. However, it is still worth taking precautions to at least reduce the chances.
Keeping your nose and mouth covered during cold weather can prevent an attack. This can also help you to avoid colds and flu bugs and is especially essential if you enjoy jogging outdoors. It might be worth altering your exercise regime for cooler months for the time being. Whilst the cold can aggravate your asthma, it tends to be manageable for most. If you believe you have severe asthma, where walking briskly outdoors can trigger an attack, it is important to visit your doctor.
Remember to use your inhaler if you feel the symptoms occurring, and it is essential to use your reliever inhaler BEFORE exercise. This can take between 10-20 minutes to take full effect.
Asthma symptoms present due to the cold should be treated in the same way by using inhalers when symptoms appear. If you don't have a reliever inhaler (such as Ventolin) or hardly use one, you may find yourself needing it more until the temperature rises. Other treatments are dependant on your triggers. For example, allergies may require the appropriate antihistamines.
Never delay visiting your doctor if you're finding your asthma (or any other respiratory condition) unmanageable. Often asthma attacks aren't out of the blue, but you've noticed symptoms previously. It is vital during the winter to have a supply of effective inhalers, whether this is preventers, relievers or both.