Lots of snow piles for kids to play in, snowy hills for sledding, and sports such as skiing and ice skating are all things that make a long winter enjoyable for many. But if you have asthma, a long winter can increase exposure to winter asthma triggers, potentially making your asthma worse.
Nine of the most common winter asthma triggers are listed here, with some tips on how to control them.
1. ** Colds and flus**: Spending all day inside with doors and windows closed, and the heat blaring, sets up a breeding ground for viruses and bacteria. ** Viral infections are the most common asthma triggers.** The best way to prevent the spread of any contagious disease is frequent hand washing. It’s also a good idea to remind people to cover their mouths when they sneeze and cough.
2. ** Dry indoor air**: Winter air, even while indoors, tends to be very dry, and inhaling dry air may irritate airway passages. It may also cause secretions to become thick, which can further block airway passages. Humidifiers may help, although humidity can harbor bacteria, fungus, mold, and dust mites, all of which are also asthma triggers. Perhaps the best way to remedy this is simply to drink plenty of water. Most health experts recommend you drink 8-10 glasses of water every day anyway, so now you have an added incentive to do just that.
3. ** Cold, dry outdoor air**: The problem of dry winter air tends to get worse outdoors, especially while exercising. Rapidly inhaling cold, dry air may trigger an asthma attack, often quite suddenly. An obvious remedy is to not go outdoors, although this isn’t always feasible. So, if you do have to spend time outdoors, wrap a scarf over your mouth and nose so as to warm and humidify the air you inhale. It’s also a good idea to exercise indoors until spring.
4. ** Cabin fever**: Limited exposure to sunshine and spending too much time inside may result in anxiety and depression, both of which have been linked with worsening asthma. A great way of dealing with this is to find activities away from your home, like at a health club. Exercise also is a great way of combating cabin fever. If you are unable to combat this on your own, your doctor may also be able to offer help.
5. ** Wood smoke**: Having a fire in a fireplace can invoke a warm and pleasant milieu. A wood stove may be an inexpensive way of heating your home. Yet both the smoke created, and the mold present on firewood, may trigger an asthma attack. The best way to control this asthma trigger is to find an alternative method of heating your home.
6. ** Cigarette smoke**: Despite all the warnings of the dangers of smoking, there are still those who insist on doing it. While most adults will go outdoors when children are around, cold and snow makes it easier to stay indoors and smoke. This can create a poor environment for anyone with asthma. Secondhand smoke is an asthma trigger that can easily be avoided by making sure all people who smoke do so outdoors or, better yet, not at all. Click here for 20 incentives to quit smoking if you have asthma.
7. ** Dust**: Dust, particularly the dust mites living among it, is a ubiquitous asthma trigger that is present in nearly every home, being most prevalent on bedding, upholstered furniture, and carpet. Dust can also be found under beds, in closets, old books and anywhere boxes are stored. The best way to control this trigger is to reduce exposure by covering mattresses with protective coverings, and removing upholstered furniture and carpet from your home whenever possible. When this method doesn’t work, there are certain medicines your doctor may recommend. Check out more dust prevention tips.
8. ** Mold**: This common asthma trigger grows freely in standing water, particularly in bathrooms, kitchens and basements. Mold spores may get into the air and stay present for years. The best way to control this trigger is make sure there is no standing water in your home. Check out 7 more ways to avoid mold exposure.
9. Indoor pets: Many asthmatics are allergic to cat and dog dander and saliva. The best way to control this trigger is do not have dogs and cats as pets, or keep them outdoors. When this is not possible, keep them out of bedrooms and off furniture. It’s also helpful to wash your hands after handling any pets, wash dogs regularly, and vacuum using a vacuum with a Hepa filter. For more tips check out epa.gov.
The Bottom Line: Once you recognize your asthma triggers, you will have to make some effort on your part in order to control them. Remember, however, that the best way of controlling asthma triggers is by working with your asthma doctor to gain good control of your asthma.
A Registered Respiratory Therapist and asthmatic