Trigger me this, winter: Why asthma flares up when temps drop down

It’s wintertime…and for 24.6 million Americans suffering from asthma, the breathing isn’t easy. If you’re an adult or child dealing with this chronic lung condition, you already know that every season brings its own set of unique triggers—pollen in the spring, moldy leaves in the fall— and these triggers are not created equal. In other words, what irritates one asthmatic may not cause symptoms in another.

What makes winter particularly challenging is there’s no safe haven from asthma triggers, whether you’re inside or outside. Factor in the increased prevalence of colds and flu (the most common causes of flare-ups), and you’ve got the perfect storm for an asthma attack. Dangerous symptoms include coughing, chest tightening or pain, wheezing and trouble breathing.

So how can you keep Jack Frost from nipping at your lungs—and how can 98point6 help?  With “oops-I-didn’t-think-of-that” seasonal triggers, and expert advice from our own Dr. Linda Pourmassina, we’ll break it down for you right here.

Holiday hazards and winter watch-outs

Whether you’re decorating your own home or heading out of town, the most wonderful time of the year marks the beginning of a mean season for asthma sufferers. Let’s look at some potential triggers you may encounter.

If your trigger is CHEMICALS AND FRAGRANCE, watch out for:

  • Aggressively cleaned destinations, including your own home
  • Scented candles and incense
  • Liberal use of perfume (sorry, Great Aunt Betty)

If your trigger is COLD AIR, watch out for:

  • Heavy winds and extreme temperatures (especially if your nose, mouth or chest is exposed)
  • Outdoor exercise (which is its own trigger), including winter sports like skiing, ice hockey or snow-tubing

If your trigger is DUST, watch out for:

  • Artificial trees and decorations brought out of long-term storage (perhaps in a dusty attic or basement)
  • Upholstered furniture, carpeting and bedding (in your own home or in hotels and guest rooms)

If your trigger is MOLD, watch out for:

  • Real trees and greenery, which can hold mold spores
  • Poorly sealed windows or inadequately maintained heating systems—these can impact condensation and humidity levels in your home
  • Water spots, stains or leaks—these can be a sign of indoor mold growth

If your trigger is PET DANDER, watch out for:

  • The furry and feathered friends of your holiday hosts
  • Pet-friendly hotel rooms
  • Holiday events like live nativities
  • The so-called “Thanksgiving Effect,” which describes a sudden allergy to a pet you were otherwise used to (it happens after you’ve been away from a pet for a period of time)

If your trigger is SMOKE, watch out for:

  • Fireplaces and fire pits
  • Tobacco- and cigar-filled parties and events
  • Hotel rooms within or near a smoking block

Food for thought

Another surprisingly common asthma trigger is Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which tends to flare up when you’re making (too much) merry. “The holidays are prime time for GERD to act up due to dietary changes and even weight gain during this period,” says Dr. Pourmassina. “An asthmatic may not even realize he or she is having reflux because it can manifest as increased wheezing rather than classic heartburn symptoms.” Not sure what’s causing your asthma? Talk to a 98point6 physician who can help you recognize, track and avoid your triggers.

Sick and tired? Proceed with extra caution

Bacterial infections, viruses and even the common cold can spell major trouble for asthmatic lungs. “If you have asthma and get sick, take it seriously—don’t just try to push through,” warns Dr. Pourmassina. “Pay close attention to how you are feeling—and especially to how you are breathing.”

In addition to these health conditions that can present problems in and of themselves, the over-the-counter medicines used to treat them—like aspirin, ibuprofen and decongestants—may include ingredients that are potentially dangerous for asthmatics. Up to 20% of people who have asthma can have a serious adverse reaction to these common household drugs. So, if you’re feeling unwell, it’s always best to check in with a physician to be sure you’re taking safe medications to treat your pain or congestion.

Stay in control

Holiday stress and inconvenient weather are unavoidable, but these tips can help you manage your asthma symptoms this winter.

  • If you’ve been prescribed controller inhalers and/or allergy medications, use them consistently. Make sure your meds are well-stocked and not expired—especially if you’re traveling.
  • Know your “personal best” peak flow number (your highest reading during a two- to three-week period) and continue to use your meter regularly throughout the season. This will help you detect changes before symptoms worsen, and help your physician determine how to best treat you. This winter may be the perfect time to consider upgrading to a connected inhaler that can track and share information about your lung function (via a smartphone or tablet). Talk to your doctor to learn more.
  • Follow typical steps to prevent the spread of winter illness: wash your hands, stay away from people who appear to be sick and get the flu shot
  • Because there is such a close connection between GERD and asthma, be proactive and figure out your approach to eating and drinking before heading out. If your reflux symptoms persist, connect with a physician to see if you would benefit from prescription treatment.

Breathe easier! You can access convenient, private virtual care anytime, from anywhere with the 98point6 app. With it, you can get a personalized consultation, a custom care plan from a U.S. board-certified physician, and any necessary prescriptions sent to your closest pharmacy.

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98point6 delivers on-demand primary care via secure in-app messaging.

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