Asthma is a lifelong disease that causes wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing. It can limit a person’s quality of life.
While we don’t know why asthma rates are rising, we do know that most people with asthma can control their symptoms and prevent asthma attacks by avoiding asthma triggers and correctly using prescribed medicines, such as inhaled corticosteroids.
During the winter months, adults and children with asthma should take special care and keep in mind:
- Cold weather is a major trigger for asthma attacks. As cold air reaches the lungs, the lungs respond by releasing histamine, resulting in wheezing or respiratory problems for people with asthma. In colder temperatures, viscosity of mucus in the respiratory system becomes thicker and may not operate to its full potential.
- The cold and flu virus aggravate asthmatic symptoms. Respiratory infections caused by the cold and flu virus irritate the lining of the respiratory system. The lungs inflame and the airways narrow. People with asthma are also at greater risk for developing sinusitis because their nasal and sinus tissue can become swollen when they inhale triggers, such as, dust, pollen or smoke. If you have asthma and allergies, it is important to avoid triggers that cause inflammation to reduce your risk and the impact of colds and sinusitis.
- Cold medicine may interfere with asthma. Keep in mind that some cold medications may thicken mucus, making it difficult to cough it up. This is a serious concern for those with asthma, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis. Talk to your immunologist about your symptoms to help you choose the best treatment, which may include a combination of medicinal treatments and non-medicinal therapies such as hot packs, humidifiers and salt water rinses.
If you or a loved one has asthma, take the following precautions this winter:
- Wear a scarf over your mouth and nose in order to warm the air before you breathe it in.
- Breathe through the nose and not through the mouth. Nose-breathing allows for air to be quickly converted to the appropriate body temperature.
- Exercise can strengthen your heart and lungs. When exercising outdoors, dress in layers. This will help you better manage your body heat. If it’s especially cold or icy outdoors, consider going to a mall or other indoor location to do some walking or other activity. Make sure the indoor location is well humidified and ventilated.
- Keep indoor air clean, maintain optimal humidity, and minimize dust. Reduce pet dander and dust by cleaning and vacuuming regularly.
- Take all medications as prescribed, even if you feel fine.
- Wash your hands and teach your children to wash their hands properly to prevent exposure to the cold or flu. Children are more prone to catch the cold or flu in a populated environment.
- Remember to drink plenty of fluids. Water has many other valuable benefits, including keeping your skin hydrated during the cold winter months.
Lastly, if you have asthma, you may benefit from the new pulmonary rehabilitation program at The Center for Fitness and Health at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. The program provides specialized therapy, exercise and education to improve quality of life and functional capacity for people with asthma or other pulmonary conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
Medicare and most insurance plans cover pulmonary rehabilitation.
Speak with your doctor today about the pulmonary rehabilitation program at The Center for Fitness and Health at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center. For more information on the program, call 240-826-6662.
Sources: Web MD, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Washington and Shady GroveAdventistHospitals. For additional information, consult your physician.