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Your Health

Do you have asthma? Don't let winter weather stop you cold

Staying Asthma

Winter can be a trying season for those with asthma. Already sensitive lungs are especially susceptible to irritation from cold winter air.

Like other asthma triggers such as smoke or pollen, cold air can cause muscles around lung airways to tighten and tissues to become inflamed. Shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing may result.

Cold air is also dry, meaning winter air may actually pull moisture from the lungs' airways and lead to narrowing and spasms. Also, tissue in your airways may swell and tighten around airways in response to breathing cold air.

Keep asthma under control

The first step in fighting the effects of cold weather on asthma is to make sure your asthma is under control as winter approaches. Use medication as directed by your doctor, and avoid triggers you know make your asthma worse.

If your asthma is under control, you should be able to carry out normal activities – including climbing stairs and exercising – without symptoms. Of course, see your doctor whenever you need more help controlling asthma.

These tips may help you through chilly weather:

  • Always carry your emergency asthma medicine with you when you go outdoors, even if it's just to take out the garbage or walk the dog.
  • Dress for the weather. Retaining body heat will keep your lungs warmer. Wear a scarf over your mouth and nose so you're breathing warmer, moister air. Also helpful: A type of hood and mask that covers head, ears, neck, and most of your face. Research shows keeping your face warm in cold weather helps prevent asthma attacks.
  • Outdoor activities like snow shoveling or exercising call for extra caution. The faster you breathe, the more likely your lungs are to react by constricting and causing asthma symptoms. If necessary, ask your doctor about using a short-acting inhaler 15 minutes or so before outdoor physical activity.
  • Be sure to warm up with lower intensity activity for at least 10 minutes before strenuous activity. This helps relax muscles around your airways, as well as prepare other muscles for exercise.

Don't forget
A final note: Wintertime illnesses like colds and flu can make asthma worse. Take precautions to prevent them by frequently washing your hands, getting enough rest, and getting a flu shot.