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Asthma in winter – why it gets worse and what to do

Kelly Smith
Yahoo Lifestyle
8 January 2013

Cold weather can cause asthma to flare up more than usual, not to mention the extra threat of colds and flu, which can badly affect the respiratory system.

Around three quarters of asthmatics say that cold weather makes their breathing more difficult, according to Asthma UK. But there’s plenty you can do to keep the condition at bay this winter.

Cold air can trigger asthma attacks ©Rex
Cold air can trigger asthma attacks ©Rex

Why does winter make asthma worse?

There are several reasons why winter is a problem for asthmatics. The cold air itself is a common trigger of breathlessness and asthma attacks, plus winter brings with it an increase in colds and respiratory infections.

Being indoors can cause problems too as the air is often of poor quality during the winter because we crank up the drying central heating and prevent fresh air circulation by closing doors and windows against the chill.

Much of this is unavoidable so it’s important that you and those around you know your asthma plan in case you do have an attack.

[Related: 10 winter health myths - and the truth]


Asthma under control

First and foremost, make sure that you and your medical team have done everything possible to ensure your asthma is well controlled. This may involve several visits to the asthma clinic or GP and a variety of inhalers, both preemptive and for when you’re short of breath.

Ideally you should rarely need your reliever so don’t forget to take your preemptive medication regularly.

Those with well-controlled asthma are much more likely to be able to take the winter in their stride. But if you know that cold air is a particular trigger for you, you can use your reliever preemptively before going outside in wintry weather.

And remember to keep it on you at all times.

Winter means you have to take asthma prevention even more seriously ©Rex
Winter means you have to take asthma prevention even more seriously ©Rex

Keep up good asthma-prevention practice at home

It’s even more important in the winter that you keep your home as asthma-friendly as possible. This means vacuuming with a HEPA-filter cleaner regularly, wiping dust off surfaces, investing in air filters and using anti-allergy bedding, as dust-mite allergies can often be an asthma trigger.

[Related: Paracetamol linked to asthma]


Avoid respiratory infections

This may be easier said than done but do everything possible to avoid catching a cold or the flu. Get the flu jab and avoid those who are suffering.

You may also find it helpful to wear a scarf over your nose and mouth when you go outside, which will also help warm the air you breathe in before it enters your lungs.

An indoor pool is excellent for year round exercise for asthmatics ©Rex
An indoor pool is excellent for year round exercise for asthmatics ©Rex

Winter, exercise and asthma

Exercise is important for asthmatics for all the same reasons as those who don’t have the condition. It also helps increase lung capacity, which is vital to control asthma.

In the winter and if you can, exercise indoors where the temperature is controlled. If you do decide to workout outdoors, try wearing a cold-weather mask to reduce the impact of the icy air on your lungs.

It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids so your airways don’t dry out and be sure to warm up and cool down before and after exercising.

The winter can be even more uncomfortable for asthmatics than everyone else, but with some care and attention, you can live a perfectly normal life whatever the weather.

[Related: Five fantastic flu-fighting foods]

Share your winter asthma tips with us on Twitter with #YAsthma.


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