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Manage asthma in cold weather this winter

In some children with asthma, cold weather conditions or changes in temperature can cause flare-ups in asthma symptoms or trigger an asthma attack, especially cold and dry air.

Family concerned about asthma in cold weather sliding down a hill on an inner tube
In some children with asthma, cold weather conditions or changes in temperature can cause flare-ups in asthma symptoms or trigger an asthma attack, especially cold and dry air.

Asthma is a chronic condition that inflames and narrows the lung’s airways. This can make it difficult to breathe and may interfere with daily activities.

Daily preventive care may aid in controlling symptoms.

“While coughing and wheezing are hallmark symptoms of asthma flare-ups, many patients take daily medicines to prevent exacerbations,” said Dr. Joshua Freedman, pulmonologist with Marshfield Children’s.

Other signs to watch for include:

  • An increased effort to breathe
  • Inability to finish sentences without coughing or taking a breath.

Other common factors that may contribute to asthma attacks include:

  • Allergies, caused by triggers such as dust mites or mold.
  • Viral infections, like influenza, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
  • Dust and other particles can cling to heavy winter fabrics.
  • Indoor heating systems may produce asthma-triggering materials.

Help protect against asthma triggers in cold weather

You can help prevent cold weather asthma flare-ups:

  • Limit your child’s outdoor activities on peak trigger days.
  • If cold air is a trigger, have your child cover their mouth and nose with a loose scarf.
  • Make sure your child has fast-acting medications on hand.
  • Maintain your home’s heating system
  • Watch your home’s temperature and humidity levels

Home heaters can go unused for months. Filters may contain dust, mold or other asthma triggers. Replace your filter to prevent blowing those materials all over your home.

Keep asthma at bay with these tips

“One of the most important things you can do is get your annual flu vaccine,” said Dr. Freedman. “Getting the appropriate vaccines can help your child stay healthy during the winter and prevent worsening asthma symptoms.”

Other tips include:

  • Try to avoid illness. Limit your family’s exposure to people and places that may spread bacteria.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid fires. Smoke can trigger asthma symptoms. Avoid wood-burning stoves or fireplaces. If you are in a room with a fireplace or wood stove, have your child sit as far away as possible.
  • Have an asthma action plan handy.

“Contact your provider if your child is needing to use albuterol frequently, has needed to be seen urgently for asthma or is not getting through colds well to discuss long-term treatment plans,” said Dr. Freedman.

Use inhalers as prescribed

“Inhaled steroids are medications taken daily in some cases to reduce inflammation,” said Dr. Freedman. “Take your medications as prescribed if you’re sensitive to the cold or notice asthma flare-ups more frequently this time of year.”

Other tips include:

  • Some children may need to use their inhaler 15 minutes before going outside when it’s cold, or if they’ll be playing in the snow.
  • Keep a second inhaler on hand when you’re on the go.
  • Talk to your child’s provider about using a spacer for their inhaler. Without a spacer, some medication may hit the back of the throat and not go into the lungs, causing your child to not get the medication dosage as prescribed.

RELATED ARTICLE: What you need to know about using an inhaler

For asthma concerns, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Schedule appointment Message your provider

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2 responses to “Manage asthma in cold weather this winter”

  1. D. Rein

    How do you know if you have the new flu or a cold? Are t the symptoms about the same? Is there a test to determine if you have this years flu?

    1. Kirsten Shakal, Shine365 Editor

      Hi, D.R. This Shine365 post will help you determine whether you are experiencing the cold or a flu: https://shine365.marshfieldclinic.org/wellness/cold-flu/

      If you believe you have the flu and experience a fever of 101F or higher for more than 24 hours, visit your doctor.

      Thank you for reading Shine365. -Kirstie

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