Winterizing your Asthma Care

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

For the average person the cold weather symbolizes the holiday season, warm fuzzy sweaters and playing in the snow - depending on what area of the country you live in.For people who have asthma the exuberance is often replaced with concerns for yet another asthma flare up.

In order to avoid a flare up of your asthma you need to understand why this time of year tends to cause flare ups and what steps to take to mitigate those factors.

Cold temperatures
Some people with asthma have noticed that the cold air will cause their airway to constrict more often than a warmer day. If you know that the cold is a trigger for your asthma there are two things you can do to help lessen the problem. Limiting the time spent outdoors and wearing a scarf or muffler over your mouth and nose can help warm the air a bit before it hits your airway. These steps may sound simple but they can really help if cold air triggers your asthma.

Higher pollution levels
Another issue with the cold air is that it can contribute to higher pollution levels, depending on what part of the country you live in. For example, in Arizona the cooler temperatures make it much harder for the local pollution to be filtered out. This leaves the asthma triggering pollutants right at the surface where people are forced to breathe them in. It can help to limit your time outdoors, run an air purifier with HEPA technology in your home and office and check the pollution levels before you head outside.

Dry air
Often times dry air goes hand in hand with the cold temperatures. Whether it's because of the temperature outside or constantly running the heater, the dry air can wreak havoc on many asthma patients' lungs. Dryness can lead to irritation and coughing that triggers an asthma attack. Using a humidifier in the colder months can help replace some of that needed moisture in the air. We also use a hydrometer to be sure that we don't end up with the air too wet and risk mold formation. Make sure that on these extra dry days you drink enough water. Staying hydrated can help eliminate some of the annoying symptoms of dry air.

Cold and flu season
We have all heard et nauseam about the link between cold and flu season and asthma flare ups. Just about any upper respiratory infection can irritate an asthmatic's lungs and trigger an attack. What you may not know is that a stomach bug can also trigger asthma. If you are frequently throwing up it is quite likely that some of the gastric contents can irritate the lungs. Just like GERD - stomach bugs can also trigger asthma attacks. The best way to avoid the problems of cold and flu season include: eating healthy foods, limiting junk foods and sugar, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, practicing proper hand washing techniques and getting the proper immunizations - like the flu or pneumonia vaccine.

Holiday hustle and bustle
Let's be honest - most of us have a hard time keeping track of everything we need to do during the holidays. With all of the added activities it is tough to remember to eat lunch some days - much less be consistent with your asthma care plan. Having a plan in place with your physician to prevent asthma attacks and following it to the letter during the holiday season can help limit flare ups. It can also help to program medication reminders, doctor appointments and scheduled peak flow reading into your phone or e-mail alerts. Those kind of alerts have helped me more frequently than I care to admit!

If you follow these tips and make caring for your health a priority you can limit some of these nasty flare ups. From our house to yours - have a wonderful holiday season.

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.