Cold air is dry
Your airways are lined with a thin layer of fluid. When you breathe in dry air, that fluid evaporates faster than it can be replaced. Dry airways become irritated and swollen, which worsens asthma symptoms.
Cold air also reasons your airways to produce a substance called histamine, which is the same chemical your body makes during an allergy attack.
Your airways are also lined with a layer of protective mucus, which helps remove unhealthy particles. In cold weather, your body produces more mucus, but it’s thicker and stickier than normal. The extra mucus makes you more likely to catch a cold or other infection.
How can you avoid asthma attacks in the cold?
To prevent asthma attacks, try to stay indoors when the temperature dips very low, especially if it’s below 10°F (-12.2°C).
If you do have to go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf to warm the air before you breathe it in.
- Vacuum and dust your home often to remove indoor allergens.
- Wash your sheets and blankets every week in hot water to get rid of dust mites.
- Drink extra fluids in the winter. This can keep the mucus in your lungs thinner and therefore easier for your body to remove.
- Try to avoid anyone who appears to be sick.
- Get your flu vaccine early in the fall.
Here are some ways to prevent asthma attacks when you exercise outdoors in cold weather:
- Carry an inhaler with you in case you have an asthma attack.
- Warm-up for at least 10 to 15 minutes before you work out.
- Wear a mask or scarf over your face to warm the air you breathe in.
- Use your inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before you exercise. This opens up your airways so you can breathe easier.
Cold is just one of many asthma triggers. Other things that can set off your symptoms include:
- bacterial or viral infections
- tobacco smoke
- strong scents
- allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and animal dander
You know you’re having an asthma attack because of symptoms such as:
- shortness of breath
- pain or tightness in your chest
- trouble speaking