Asthma may not be the first thing you think of during the winter. But colder weather can exacerbate symptoms for people with the condition. Here’s why.
The dry air can irritate the lungs and cause hyperreactivity, which increases mucus production and can trigger reactive airway disease or asthma. Aaron Kobernick, MD, an immunologist and assistant professor in the Department of Dermatology at University of Utah Health, says, “The cold weather and dry air can cause twitchiness and irritate the lungs, which can make the airways more hyperactive and create asthma or asthma-like symptoms.”
Cold weather also brings an uptick in colds, flu, and COVID-19 transmission, which can make asthma symptoms worse. “Viruses have an opportunity to take off if the lungs are irritated by cold and dry air or by air pollutants,” Kobernick says. “If you already have a twitchy lung, respiratory viruses can make that twitchiness worse and cause reactive airway disease or asthma.”
Spending more time indoors is not the answer. Asthma triggers exist there as well, and with windows and doors shut tight against the cold, they are less likely to dissipate as they do in warmer times. “Patients with allergic triggers will be exposed to more animal dander, wood stoves, and house dust,” Kobernick says.
Focus on prevention
In order to avoid asthma attacks in the cold weather, patients need to focus on prevention.
- Take medication regularly and as directed.
- Get your flu and COVID-19 vaccines.
- Limit outdoor exercise on poor air quality days.
- Use a scarf or face mask when outside to help warm and humidify the air you breath.
- Use a humidifier.
- Frequently wash your hands.
“Talk to your doctor about the circumstances that trigger your asthma attacks,” Kobernick says. “They can help you come up with a plan to prevent them.”