Cold weather and the impact it can have on your asthma
Can cold weather trigger asthma?
For some people with asthma, the cold and dry autumn and winter air can induce asthma symptoms and trigger asthma flare-ups.
We know children and adults are more likely overall to be hospitalised for their asthma as the temperatures drop, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Researchers believe this is due to a range of factors including the cold and the low level of moisture in the air. The cold weather is also accompanied by the other potential triggers during winter, such as cold and flu, viruses, dust, mould and worsening air quality due to wood fire smoke heaters and open fires.
Why does cold weather act as an asthma trigger for some people?
The airways of people with asthma can become inflamed and make it more difficult to breathe.
This is especially noticeable when exercising in the cold or simply inhaling cold air.
Researchers believe this is due to the dual impact of the cold and dry air on the airways, plus people breathing in more through their mouth, instead of through their noses.
This is important because breathing through the nose can warm, filter and humidify the air before it gets to the airways in the lungs.
But when people breathe through their mouths, it goes straight to the lungs and is unfiltered, colder and drier.
Asthma Australia Senior Educator Gemma Crawley says breathing in cold, dry and potentially unfiltered air can dry out the airways, increasing irritation and sensitivity.
“This can lead to tightening of the muscle around the airway, and this generates asthma symptoms,” she says.
There are also often more viruses around in winter. This year, of course, we are still experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the normal flu season, both of which can impact the respiratory system.
How to manage asthma in the cold
Generally, triggers are only a problem when asthma is not well-controlled but for others, when it comes to cold and flu – this time of year, is hard to avoid.
An Asthma Action Plan, written by a doctor, highlights the daily preventer and reliever medications required for the individual, and helps to recognise worsening symptoms, and provides clear instructions on what to do.
It can also set out what to do in different weather and trigger conditions.
If you are typically someone who has asthma flare ups during winter, we encourage you to visit your doctor for an asthma review to help get your asthma under control before winter sets in. Additionally, we encourage asthma, to discuss with teachers or other important contacts, your child’s condition, and whether they are impacted by the cold.
Also make sure schools and/or early learning centres have a copy of your child’s written Asthma Action Plan and that you have taken in their reliever medication, spacer, and a mask, if appropriate for the age of the child.
If using a preventer is part of your written Asthma Action Plan, make sure this is taken as prescribed. As preventer medication can take up to six weeks to take effect, it is especially important to take this now in the lead up to winter.
Consistent and controlled asthma management is the best way to make sure people with asthma can breathe and live freely this winter.
So, before you head out in the cold, try wrapping a scarf loosely around your nose and mouth. This stops your airways from getting a shock of cold air, which can trigger asthma symptoms.
For more information regarding asthma, cold air, and other winter triggers, call an Asthma Educator on 1800 ASTHMA (1800 278 462).
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ENT, Bird Healthcare, AirPhysio and Sanofi are campaign partners of Asthma Australia and have not been involved in the development of this webpage.