Nov 18, 2016 12:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

Asthma may not be the first thing you think of when winter comes knocking, but the colder conditions can exacerbate symptoms for people with the condition. “The dry air dries out the mucus in the lungs, which is the natural barrier against temperature changes,” says Aaron Kobernick, MD, an immunologist with University of Utah Health. “This makes the smooth muscle more ‘twitchy’ and prone to asthma attacks when it comes in contact with the cold air.”

Cold weather also brings an uptick in colds and flu going around – both of which can make asthma symptoms worse. “Once again it’s the lack of mucus causing a problem,” says Kobernick. “Respiratory viruses take advantage of a reduced mucus barrier in the lung and causes trouble for asthmatics.”

So, is the answer for asthmatics to spend the winter indoors? Nope, because there are asthma triggers there as well, and with windows and doors shut tight against the cold, they are less likely to dissipate like they do in warmer times. “Patients with allergic triggers will be exposed to more animal dander, wood stoves or house dust,” says Kobernick.

In order to avoid asthma attacks in the cold weather, patients need to focus on prevention. Medication should be taken regularly and as directed. If conditions seem to be prime for an attack, patients should use an albuterol inhaler to stop an attack before it starts. “Talk to your doctor about the circumstances that trigger your asthma attacks,” says Kobernick. “They can help you come up with a plan to prevent them.”

There are some who advise asthmatics to avoid exercising outdoors during cold weather. However, Kobernick says that if you are taking precautions it may be safe. “If the air is clear and free of particulate matter there is no reason not to exercise outside,” he says. “You should talk to your doctor beforehand though and discuss your particular asthma triggers.”

Kobernick adds: “Remember, our goal is to control your asthma so you have no limitations in health or activity!”


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