Asthma is a chronic lung disease that 26.5 million (or 8.3%) Americans struggle with, including over 20 million adults and 6.1 million children. The symptoms of this illness lead to 11 million doctor’s visits, 1.7 million outpatient visits, 1.3 million emergency room visits, and over 400,000 hospitalizations annually with 3,500 people dying from the condition in the same period.
The breathing problems associated with asthma tend to worsen in cold weather, and that can present another set of challenges beyond the normal maintenance that comes with asthma. If you live in the Chicago, Illinois, area, and you’re struggling with asthma during these colder months, our dedicated medical team at Michigan Avenue Primary Care can help.
Let’s look at what asthma is, how cold weather makes things worse, and how you can manage your condition despite these challenges.
In normal breathing, air moves easily and quietly in your airway because the muscles in this area are relaxed.
People dealing with asthma, on the other hand, deal with either inflammation of the airway, mucus overproduction which obstructs the airway, or a constriction of muscles around the airway (also known as a bronchospasm). Whichever is happening at the time of an asthma attack, the result is the wheezing of you struggling to get breath into your lungs.
Asthma can be intermittent or persistent, meaning it either flares up periodically or you deal with symptoms on a regular basis. Many people have asthma due to allergic responses to allergens, but others deal with nonallergy causes like stress, other illnesses, and even exercise.
Since asthma attacks are the result of constrictions in your airway, avoiding triggers is a common method of preventing flare-ups. However, in cold weather it can be difficult to completely avoid exposure to the dryness and low temperatures, and both can trigger attacks. The worse your asthma is, the more likely you’re going to deal with a flare-up.
Aside from the weather itself, winter months also present a risk of colds and other illnesses that can trigger attacks, as well as the indoor environment you stay in to keep warm. Inside with the heat on, you risk exposure to indoor allergens (pet dander, mold, dust) and other irritants.
Here are some ways you can lower your risk of asthma attacks during the winter months:
This seems like an obvious one, but a simple way to prevent cold air from causing an asthma flare-up is to avoid it as much as possible.
If you have to go out, however, you should make sure you stay warm to prevent getting sick, and keep your mouth covered to keep the cold air from getting into your lungs.
There’s no time during the year when this isn’t good advice, but taking your medications can be especially helpful in the colder months. Even if you’re feeling fine, it can help reduce inflammation and is very useful if you’re sensitive to the cold weather.
Dry air is as much a problem during this time of year as the cold, so keeping active moisture in the air with a humidifier is key to helping with that, just be sure to keep your humidifier clean. Nasal spray can also help keep your nasal passages moist.
Asthma can be frustrating when it gets cold, but you can cope with it by following these steps. If you have other concerns about asthma, make an appointment with our team at Michigan Avenue Primary Care today to get help. Call our office or schedule your visit online.