There are several reasons why cold weather is particularly challenging for those who suffer from asthma.
“The biggest one that comes to mind is infection rates,” says Dr. Canfield.
Certain viruses, including the flu, and illnesses such as upper respiratory infections are more frequent in winter. We tend to spend more time indoors, which means we’re in close contact with others who may expose us to these contagions, thus potentially worsening asthma’s bronchial symptoms.
A host of allergens poses another threat when we hunker down inside and keep the windows closed. Seemingly innocuous things like pet dander and house dust to more problematic issues like mold can worsen or trigger asthma symptoms. Airways of the lungs can become inflamed and swollen, and asthma sufferers may experience increased coughing and wheezing.
“Getting allergy tested and getting the advice of an allergist is helpful,” says Dr. Canfield. “It’s important for people to know if they have allergic triggers to their asthma and how to avoid those.”
There are specific things you can do around the house to limit your exposure, such as using allergen-proof bedding and covers, avoiding excessive humidifying, and ensuring proper ventilation in your home.
Threats don’t solely exist indoors, however.
“Cold air is typically an irritant in the airways. The other aspect of winter is that it’s very dry, and low humidity can also act as an irritant,” Dr. Canfield explains. “The dual factor of cold and dry [air] tends to promote having tight airways and having trouble breathing.”
Breathing cold air through your mouth rather than through your nose can pose a risk. So can rapid, heavy breathing, such as when you exert yourself while exercising or shoveling snow. Your airways cool quickly, potentially resulting in irritation and bronchospasm (tightening of the airways).