CINCINNATI—The blustery days of winter can be cumbersome, leaving us cold and uncomfortable.
But for a person with asthma, the chilly weather can be especially unpleasant—and even dangerous.
University of Cincinnati experts say there are a number of reasons why asthma is worse during the winter months and caution sufferers to pay close attention to their condition when the temperature drops and the snow starts falling.
Asthma is a common, chronic illness involving the respiratory system in which the airways occasionally constrict or become inflamed and are lined with excessive amounts of mucus.
Michael Benedict, MD, an assistant professor at UC and physician for internal medicine and pediatrics at University Pointe, says exposure to environmental precipitants is known to increase the severity of asthma.
“This is well recognized by physicians,” he says. “There are many known contributors to the worsening of asthma during winter.”
He says cold weather, for many people, means holing up inside with tightly sealed windows and doors.
“Dust mites can be another cause of asthma flare-up,” he says. “We shut ourselves inside the house during the winter, exposing ourselves to more allergens. Houses are so efficient now that there is not a steady flow of air so we have an increased exposure to irritants and triggers.”
Benedict adds that a spotless house doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy house.
“We may be too clean,” he says, noting that studies show children who are exposed to a number of germs or allergens at an early age are less likely to develop asthma in adulthood. “Evidence suggests that exposing the immune system to a variety of germs may actually be beneficial.”
However, he says if a child has already been diagnosed with asthma, keeping him or her away from a child care facility during the cold and flu season is advised, although not always feasible.
“Cold and flu bugs are known triggers for asthma,” he says. “If your child gets ill, take the extra precautions to make sure the child is taking the correct medications, if applicable, and watch closely for breathing difficulties.”
Benedict says it’s often hard to recognize the development of asthma during the cold and flu season. He advises you to watch for:
- Breathing troubles
- Persistent cough that may or may not be accompanied by wheezing and is made worse in cold air or with exertion
- Rapid breathing or hyperventilation
- Chest pain in children
“If you or your children are on controller medication for asthma, make sure to use it correctly and as needed to prevent a bigger breathing problem,” he continues. “Also, get a flu shot to help prevent illness-related asthma flare-ups.
“Most of all, pay attention to what your body is telling you or what your children may be telling you about their breathing to handle the situation in a timely, healthy manner.”