There was a reason why one of my former partners and mentors referred to October as "Horrible October". Something about the 10th month of the year, in our part of the country, brings out the worst in our asthma patients. My partner, Dr. Schwartz would say, "If you don't get sick in October I wonder if you truly have asthma". I wouldn't say I fully agree with this quote but the point my sage partner was making is that asthma very often flares up in late fall.
Many of my patients are surprised at how fast they can go from feeling perfectly fine to feeling miserable because of the sudden onset of cough and shortness of breath this time of the year.
Here are some of the reasons October or late fall may spell disaster for asthma control:
- 1) The temperature change from warm to cold may be associated with worsening asthma. Many of my patients complain about this experience.
- 2) Forced air heat being turned on for the first time may escalate dust and mold particles residing in and around ducts and vents.
- 3) Cough cold and flu season ushers in a wave upper respiratory tract infections which commonly cause asthma attacks.
- 4) Cats, dogs and other furred creatures spend more time in the home exposing allergic inhabitants to higher levels of dander.
- 5) Winter clothing and bedding is brought up from the basement or hauled down from the attic contributing to more household dust exposure.
- 6) Fireplace wood or gas burning further increases indoor air pollution.
- 7) Leaf burning, especially in many suburban locales expose neighbors blocks and miles away, to tremendous irritant smoke particles.
- 8) Poor compliance with controller medications (especially inhaled steroids) becomes more evident this time of the year when the above triggers set in. This explanation does not apply to those who rarely miss doses of their controller medication.
One parent asked me if they should move to the desert to get away from all these Fall seasonal triggers. Even the desert can get pretty cool at night (and may not be very much fun). There is no totally safe haven free of asthma triggers. But there are some steps you can take to address these factors.
Here are Ten Tips to Consider:
- 1) Have your heating system checked and furnace filters changed early. Also have your humidifiers checked.
- 2) When you go out always have a jacket or sweater just in case the temperature drops over the course of the day.
- 3) Avoid touching your face with your hands while at school or work (unless they have been cleaned). Frequent hand washing may prevent contracting the cold or flu from a friend or relative. Use hand sanitizer when hand washing is not available.
- 4) If possible, run winter clothing through a wash/dry cycle before placing them back in your closet or dresser drawers.
- 5) Restrict the pets out of the bedroom at all times. Always keep your bedroom door shut while away. This prevents pets from wandering in and leaving their dander.
- 6) Consider investing in an air filter device for the bedroom and/or home. The "HEPA" filter types of air cleaners have the highest ranking for filtering small particles.
- 7) Regarding leaf burning: keep your windows shut and run the air conditioning as long as you can, during the warmer months.
- 8) Talk to your doctor about establishing a written Maintenance Action Plan (MAP) which tells you what steps to take when asthma symptoms recur. Try not to miss doses of your controller medications. Get your Flu shot!
- 9) Arrange a follow-up visit with your allergist or asthma care provider to review how you are doing currently and what adjustments in medications may be warranted based on your assessment.
- 10) Get more details about asthma proofing your home by reading Kathi MacNaughton's excellent article on this site.
Don't fall off track because of the Fall season. Take action and maintain or re-gain control of asthma. Good Luck!