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Cold Weather Increases Asthma Suffering

March 13, 2018

Cold Weather Increases Asthma Suffering

Asthma is a respiratory condition that affects an estimated 26 million Americans. Marked by uncomfortable spasms in the bronchi of the lungs, asthma causes often severe difficulty breathing. Causing difficulty breathing. One of the leading causes of work and school absences, asthma is often triggered by exposure to airborne contaminants.

Unlike many other lung conditions like chronic bronchitis, CPD, and emphysema, asthma is reversible. However, the inflammation caused by asthma can cause permanent damage to the lungs and airways, including airway fibrosis, can occur over time.  Therefore, it is important to control the causes of asthma and to effectively treat acute episodes when they occur.

Asthma leads to more than 15 million medical outpatient visits and 2 million emergency room visits annually. Asthma-related hospital visits peak during colder months. This happens for two reasons.

  1. Rapid changes in temperature negatively affect lung function.
  2. Home heating systems stir up dust and other allergens that can trigger asthma symptoms.

Asthma and Winter Weather

The initial onset of chilly weather, especially when temperatures drop rapidly, can directly affect lung function in individuals who suffer from asthma. Winter air tends to be more arid, irritating lung tissue and causing bronchial constriction and spasms. This makes breathing difficult and uncomfortable. Also, during wintry weather, the body produces more mucus which further complicates breathing and causes wheezing and coughing can.

Physical activity during cold weather often triggers asthma symptoms. This often makes outdoor activities troublesome during winter months.

To further exacerbate the problem, during some winter weather patterns called inversions, which occur when a dense layer of cold air becomes trapped under a layer of warm air, trap pollutants at ground level. This rise in pollution often worsens asthma symptoms for many people.

Asthma and Indoor Heating Systems

For many asthma sufferers, symptoms worsen when indoor heating systems first gear up for cold weather. A research study conducted by the American Thoracic Society found that emergency clinic visits for asthma symptoms increase significantly with initial usage of indoor heating systems. This study seems to suggest asthma symptoms intensify due to increased airborne pollutants that get unsettled from air system ducts when the heat is first turned on.

Pollutants that commonly collect in duct work include dust, mold, pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and mold spores. When heating systems are first turned on, all the particles that have settled in the duct work become airborne. Once airborne, these particles can wreak havoc on allergy and asthma sufferers.

Methods for Dealing with Cold Weather Asthma

  1. According to the American Lung Association, breathing through your nose during extremely cold weather may help alleviate asthma symptoms that are triggered by frigid air. Using a scarf to cover your nose and mouth can help ease breathing during outdoor winter activities.

  2. Clean your home’s air ducts. For best results, use a professional service. Professional cleaning that uses a negative pressure vacuum will offer the best results. Caution should be used when cleaning older duct systems. Make sure to conduct a full interview before hiring any professional service to be sure they comply with all national air duct cleaning standards. If you have fiberglass ducts, be sure the service complies North American Insulation Manufacturers Association guidelines.

  3. Using a high-performance air purifier will help control the airborne contaminants that get stirred up by your indoor heating system. The Austin Air HealthMate or HealthMate Plus are particularly effective for use in residential buildings and work well at reducing asthma triggers like wood smoke, pet dander, and many other common airborne allergens.


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