EVERY PERSON HAS A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE WITH ASTHMA AND MAY HAVE A DIFFERENT TRIGGER
People with asthma have airways that are more sensitive to some things that may not impact other people without asthma. The things that set off asthma symptoms are called triggers.
Cold and dry air conditions make it harder for our lungs to do the things they need to in order to make our breathing easy and keep us healthy.
This can lead to an increase in asthma symptoms.
Minimising this trigger:
If you’re out in the cold, try wearing a scarf around your mouth and nose. People with asthma may find that wearing scarves and other material coverings over their nose and mouth when out in cold air, can help humidify and warm the air that they breathe, and reduce their asthma symptoms.
If you are exercising in winter, aim to avoid going outside first thing in the morning or in the evening when the air is coldest. When you do exercise, make sure you take time to warm up and cool down and follow any treatment advice your doctor has given you about treating exercise-induced asthma.
Colds And Flu
The flu and other viral infections are the most common trigger for asthma flare-ups (attacks). Colds and flu can be more serious for people with asthma, even if your asthma is mild or your symptoms are well-controlled by medication.
Minimising this trigger:
You can’t really avoid them, but you can reduce your risk of catching viral infections by ensuring you:
- Wash your hands before you eat or touch your face, eyes or nose
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue or elbow
- Avoid crowded spaces where possible – especially where people have colds
- Have the flu vaccination every year
- Keep physical distance from others
- Stay home when unwell
Visit the Better Health Channel for more information and resources on how you can stop the spread of colds and flu.
Avoiding the Flu With Flu Vaccination
One of the best ways to protect yourself from the flu and avoid spreading it to others is annual flu vaccination. The flu virus is always changing, so it is important to have the flu vaccine every year. This will ensure you and your family are protected against the most recent flu virus strains that may be around.
It is best to be vaccinated from mid-late April so your body has time to protect itself and you are ready for the peak flu period, from June to September. However, it is never too late to vaccinate since influenza can circulate in the community all year round.
Everyone with asthma, including all family members, should be vaccinated against the flu, especially people with severe asthma.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for a free flu vaccination under the National Immunisation Program.
To find out more about flu and the National Immunisation Program:
- Call the National Immunisation Hotline: 1800 671 811
- Visit the Department of Health’s immunisation website at health.gov.au/immunisation
This winter, it’s also important for people with asthma to make sure that you’ve had your COVID-19 vaccine and booster. You can now have your flu vaccine and COVID vaccine on the same day if you want to.
Covid-19 and Asthma
We strongly support the COVID-19 vaccination program roll out across Australia. People with asthma, including people with severe asthma, should feel confident about accessing these vaccines alongside other Australians.
It is recommended that people with asthma get both the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine. You can now have your flu vaccine and COVID vaccine on the same day if you want to. Read our COVID-19 vaccine and asthma FAQ’s here.
For some people, emotions such as laughter, grief, crying, stress, anxiety, and depression may be triggers for their asthma. While this is not unique to winter, many Australians report that they feel flat and lethargic in winter.
Minimising this trigger:
It’s impossible to cut out all stresses from our lives. But you can do things that reduce the risk of it making your asthma worse.
- Some people find that breathing exercises can help them feel more relaxed when stress is a trigger. Find out more about breathing exercises here.
- Reading our Anxiety and Depression brochure here.
- Ask your doctor how to tell the difference between your asthma symptoms and symptoms of anxiety, stress, or depression. Get advice on what to do about both.
Some heating systems can be a trigger for people with asthma.
- Un-flued gas heating can release chemicals such as nitrogen dioxide which can be a trigger for asthma
- Fan-forced ducted heating can collect dust, and if not cleaned will circulate dust around the home. Make sure you have your ducted heating cleaned before using it after a period of time.
- Wood fire heaters produce high levels of smoke and particulate matter (PM2.5) which can be a trigger for asthma. If smoke from your wood fire heating is a trigger for your asthma, it is recommended that you stop using a wood fire heating and find an alternative source of heating. There is no safe level of wood smoke.
Minimising this trigger:
If you can, choose an alternative form of heating for your home.
- Reverse cycle air conditioners are better at both heating and cooling homes. The Victorian Government and the Australian Capital Territory Government offer rebates to eligible households to replace their wood heater with reverse cycle air conditioning.
- Gas heating: If using a gas heater make sure it is flued and have it serviced each year. ‘Flued’ means it has a chimney or other exhaust to carry exhaust gas outside your home.
- Electric heaters: Some electric heaters can be good as they don’t emit or circulate smoke, gases or dust.
- Insulation: You might be able to improve the insulation in your home. Look at simple ways to keep heat in your house, such as closing curtains or blinds and fixing draughts.
Poor air quality and air pollution can be hard to avoid. Children, older people, pregnant people and those with pre-existing health conditions like asthma or other respiratory and cardiac conditions are most at risk of negative health impacts.
Wood heater smoke pollution
If you live close to outside sources of wood heater smoke:
- Avoid the polluted air as much as you can
- Use your preventer regularly and as usual
- Always carry your reliever puffer
- Keep a copy of your Asthma Action Plan with you (e.g. on your phone)
- If you can’t avoid breathing smoke, wearing a P2 or N95 mask can be somewhat protective. These need to be well fitted to work well.
If you think wood smoke in your neighbourhood is excessive you may want to:
- Speak with your neighbours. You could drop a letter with some printed information in their letterbox if you are not comfortable having a face-to-face conversation.
- Approach your local council
- Approach your state’s Environment Protection Authority (EPA)
Winter triggers may also include changes in temperature, dust mites, pollens and mould. Asthma control may be improved when your triggers are known, managed or avoided. However, it is impossible to control all your triggers all the time. Instead, work on what you can control by lowering the impact triggers have, such as:
- Using your asthma preventer regularly, as usual, to reduce your lung’s sensitivity to triggers
- Making sure to wash your spacer after you have been sick
- Talking to your doctor or pharmacist about the benefits of using a preservative-free saline nasal spray or sinus irrigation to reduce and wash away allergens, irritants and viruses breathed into your nose.
Using a preservative-free saline nasal spray or sinus irrigation:
- helps to reduce the number of allergens and other materials in your nose that can contribute to asthma symptoms
- helps to cleanse and hydrate nasal tissues
- if used 10 minutes prior to medicated nasal sprays it may improve their effectiveness
- may relieve nasal and sinus congestion by thinning excess mucus in the nose and sinuses
Flo, E-Chamber, and Sanofi are campaign partners of Asthma Australia and have not been involved in the development of this webpage.