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Contributed Photo / Dr. Harsha Shanthaveerappa

Q: I have asthma, and it's pretty well controlled most of the time, but I find that I have far more asthma attacks in the winter. Why is that?

A: For many people, the cold air in the winter can be an asthma attack trigger. Cold air is generally dryer than that in warmer months, and that can be an asthma trigger. When you breathe in dry air, the thin layer of fluid that lines your airways evaporates faster than it can be replaced, causing your airway to become irritated and swollen, leading to worsening asthma symptoms.

Cold air also causes your airways to produce a substance called histamine, the same chemical your body makes during an allergy attack. Histamine can trigger wheezing and other asthma symptoms.

The colder temperatures often mean you spend more time indoors, with doors and windows shut. That means you're in a closed environment where things like dust, mold and pet dander flourish. These allergens can trigger asthma symptoms. Spending more time inside during colder months also leads to higher risk of contact with aerosolized infectious agents, increasing the chances you may be exposed to a viral infection that can trigger asthma.

To combat cold-weather asthma attacks, be sure you follow your doctor's instructions for your asthma medications. If you're having more asthma attacks, see your doctor immediately. There may be different medication options that will work better for you.

When you go outside, place a scarf over your mouth and nose to warm the air before you breathe in. Drink extra fluids in the winter. This can keep the mucus in your lungs thinner and therefore easier for your body to remove. Try to keep your house as clean as possible to keep dust and other household irritants to a minimum. If you exercise, move your exercise routine indoors during the cold months.

— Harsha Shanthaveerappa, M.D., Parkridge Medical Group – Specialty; Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society member

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