What You Can Do for Winter Asthma and Allergies

Asthma in winter
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You may not think of winter as being a season for allergic asthma, but it all depends on what your particular allergy and asthma triggers are. There are definitely certain allergens, as well as irritants, that are more likely to present problems during the winter months when colder weather forces you to be cooped up indoors for more hours each day.

Common winter allergy and asthma symptoms can include:

Also, be careful to not make these five common mistakes in winter that can lead to poor asthma control:

  1. Not getting a flu vaccination.
  2. Not having an action plan for when the weather turns cold.
  3. Failing to identify winter triggers of asthma symptoms.
  4. Not having a rescue inhaler available.
  5. Forgetting to take your medications regularly.

Common Winter Allergens & Irritants

Allergic asthma symptoms can come and go at any time of the year. Winter presents some unique challenges, in that both indoor and outdoor triggers can set off symptoms. Being indoors so much exposes you to substances that you may not notice so much when you're splitting your time between the indoors and outdoors during the other seasons. Plus, turning on the furnace can stir up dust, pollen, and other allergens from filters, vents, and carpets.

Some common indoor allergens that are especially active in the winter are:

In addition, there may be some triggers that are known as irritants that are more likely to be encountered in the winter. Irritants don't produce the allergic reaction that allergens do, but they do further irritate already inflamed airways in people with allergic asthma.

The most common irritants during the winter months are:

  • Cold outdoor air
  • Smoke from wood fires in fireplaces and stoves
  • Secondhand smoke from tobacco smoking

It's also important to note that if you live in an area that never really gets that cold, such as Florida or other southern United States, outdoor allergens, such as pollen and molds, may never really go away completely, triggering symptoms year-round.

Influencing Factors

Most indoor triggers are affected more by the cleanliness of the indoor environment than anything else. It's almost impossible to ever get rid of indoor allergens entirely, but keeping a clean home does help. Winter weather will vary greatly from region to region, but if you live in a place where winters are cold, then cold, windy air can be a frequent irritant whenever you leave the home.

Cold weather may also mean more wood fires and smoke to irritate your airways. In certain areas too, such as the mountain west in the United States, temperature inversions can cause smoke and pollution to lie like a blanket over the lower atmosphere for days at a time. In more temperate climates, winter may bring lots of rainy damp weather, which can mean higher levels of mold spores.

Preventive Actions You Can Take

  • Listen to weather forecasts. When the weather is especially dry and cold or wet and rainy, it may make sense to stay indoors as much as you can. If you must go outdoors in cold weather, wear a neck scarf or gaiter that you can pull up over your mouth to warm the air you breathe in.
  • Maintain a clean environment. Vacuum and dust the house at least weekly to keep dust mites and other allergens from settling.
  • Avoid having wood fires in the home if you are sensitive to smoke. If you don't want to stop using your fireplace or woodstove, then at least make sure it's well-maintained and vented.

Here are other strategies for avoiding moldavoiding dust mites, and avoiding pet dander and secondhand smoke.

There are also a number of medications that can be used to treat winter allergies and asthma, including:

  • Oral antihistamines
  • Nasal decongestant sprays
  • Nasal steroid sprays or nasal chromolyn sodium
  • Eye drops
  • Saline nasal rinse/irrigation

Sources:

American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. "Allergic Rhinitis." . AAAAI. 13 Apr 2008

AAAAI, "Tips to remember: indoor allergens." American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 01 January 2006. AAAAI. 31 Aug 2008 http://www.aaaai.org/patients/publicedmat/tips/indoorallergens.stm

"Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma." NHLBI Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma. 28 Aug 2007. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. 18 Dec. 2007 <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/asthgdln.pdf>

"Tips to remember: outdoor allergens." 2007. American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. 31 May 2008

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