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How Winter Weather Affects Your Asthma

January 13, 2023

Watch for dry, cold air

We are getting into winter and in many parts of the country that means colder weather. If you have asthma, the cold air can become an irritant and even trigger your asthma. 

This is because your lungs like the air they breathe to be warm and humid. When you breathe in dry, cold air, your airways narrow, especially during exercise. This narrowing may cause symptoms such as chest tightness, coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing. 

Some folks habitually breathe via their mouths. However, if you have asthma, it is critical that you breathe through your nose while it is chilly outdoors. Breathing through your lips in chilly weather enables cold air to enter your lungs, perhaps triggering an asthma attack.

When you inhale air through your nostrils, structures in your nose humidify and warm the air as it passes through the nasal cavity. The danger of irritating your airway is reduced since the air is warmer when it enters your lungs.

What can I do to avoid weather-related asthma symptoms?

Once you’ve identified what types of weather cause asthma symptoms, use these precautions to protect yourself and your child:

  • Keep an eye on the forecast for mold and pollen counts, as well as other factors (such as excessive cold or heat) that may aggravate your or your child’s asthma.
  • On high trigger days, limit your or your child’s outside activities.
  • Close your windows at night to prevent pollen and mold out. If it’s hot outside, use air conditioning to clean, chill, and dry the air.
  • Keep your youngster indoors early in the morning (before 10 a.m.) when pollen levels are at their peak.
  • Launder clothes in the dryer (hanging clothes or sheets to dry can allow mold or pollen to collect on them).

Prepare for cold temps by wearing a scarf or balaclava to trap moisture and humidity in the air when outdoors. Other preparations you can make are using a rescue inhaler like albuterol 15-30 minutes before cold air exposure and slow down your warmup and cool down when exercising. 

During the rest of the year, you will also experience colder air at higher elevations. Be prepared for altitude and asthma triggers before you venture out. 

Two little girls are going down a snowy hill together on a sleigh

Create an Asthma Action Plan

Weather triggers and techniques to manage them, including any seasonal changes in treatment, should be included in your or your child’s documented asthma action plan.

Get a Plan

“The cold air has a larger effect on my asthma. I am more conscious about drinking warmer water in the winter to help decrease the irritation in my lungs. When I used to run, I normally only drank either warm or room temperature water during the day before a run. Then I always took my inhaler before starting to run. As I’ve progressed into back country skiing, climbing uphill has been the hardest on my lungs. I always take my inhaler with me and maintain an effective pace for the cold air in my lungs and asthma, making sure I can keep an effective rhythm while exercising. I am normally outside for longer periods of time while skiing. I will also take tea or a hot liquid in a thermos with me. This helps me keep the air I am breathing warm.”

– Margaret, avid skier and backcountry skier
Men shoveling snow
If you have asthma, try to avoid outdoor chores like shoveling snow, mowing the yard or raking leaves. If these are unavoidable, do them in moderation and use a rescue inhaler, like albuterol, 15-30 minutes before.

Asthma Triggers are Also Lurking Inside During the Winter

It’s cold outside and you’ve likely gone to your closet to pull out those plush, down comforters and put them on your bed. In most parts of the country, dust mites are year-round allergens and may trigger your asthma. The most effective avoidance measures are washing your sheets in hot water and using dust mite covers on the mattress and pillows. 

How to Prevent Indoor Asthma Symptoms During the Winter

As we spend more time indoors during the winter, we are around other indoor allergens that trigger asthma like pets, dust mites, and even mold. This winter we have seen a large increase in the number of respiratory infections triggering asthma. Take the following steps to prevent symptoms:

  • Be sure to use good hand hygiene (washing for 20 seconds).
  • Avoid people who are sick when possible.
  • Use HEPA filters in your home’s air ducts.
  • Get vaccinated against flu and pneumonia.
  • Get adequate sleep (between 7 and 9 hours a night).

Keep Doing Activities You Love 

Having asthma should not keep you from enjoying the outdoors in winter. Work with one of our allergy specialists to develop a plan. Your treatment plan will be unique to you and allow you or your child to enjoy the activity you choose. The plan should meet the needs of any lifestyle or activity. 

If your child has asthma, talk to his or her teacher about their asthma action plan and what can be done if they are struggling. Like you, our goal is to help kids with asthma have as normal a childhood as possible. 

Allergy, asthma and immunology specialist Ashish Mathur, MD
Medically Reviewed By: Ashish Mathur, MD
Reviewed on: Jan. 3, 2022

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