No one enjoys cold and flu season, but for people managing asthma, it’s perhaps the worst time of the year. Not only can the transition to colder weather itself trigger asthma symptoms, but colds, flus, and respiratory infections can trigger serious asthma flare-ups.
During the winter months, it’s important to continue your regular asthma management plan, whether you’re feeling well or suffering from a seasonal cold and flu. You should use an asthma action plan year-round to help you stick with treatment goals and know what to do if symptoms spiral out of your control. Keep taking your medication on a regular schedule, measure your peak flow regularly, avoid winter asthma triggers, and keep a rescue kit handy.
Stick with Your Treatment Plan
It’s a good idea to go over your asthma treatment plan before winter sets in, just so you’ll have it firmly in mind when the temperature drops and the cold and flu season begins in earnest. Your doctor will have prescribed medications, like Flovent or Advair, to help prevent asthma flare-ups. Remember to always take these medications on your regular schedule. Even if you’re sick with a cold or flu, you still need to take your asthma medications as directed. Without them, a simple respiratory infection could quickly become a life-threatening asthma event.
Avoid Asthma Triggers
While you may not encounter much pollen during the winter, that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other triggers waiting to trip you up. Mold, mildew, and dust mites can proliferate indoors during the colder months, so install a filtration system on your furnace, and keep your home clean. Keep your home as cool and dry as possible to discourage the proliferation of dust mites and mold. Keep pets out of your bedroom. Wash laundry and linens regularly. Use mite-proof covers on beds, duvets, and pillows to keep the microscopic critters out.
If cold air triggers your asthma symptoms, protect yourself from it by covering your mouth and nose when you go outside. You can use a scarf for this. Avoid any physical exertion while you’re outside in the cold. Have someone else shovel the driveway or knock the snow off the roof.
You’re more likely to contract a cold or flu that could spark a severe asthma flare-up during the winter, so take steps to protect yourself. Wash your hands regularly. Stay at least six feet away from a person who is sick, if you can. Regularly sterilize surfaces that are frequently touched, like phones, doorknobs, hand railings, desk surfaces, and computer keyboards. Soap and water or a bleach solution is fine for this purpose.
You should also get your flu vaccine, ideally no later than a week before the cold and flu season starts. The vaccine may not protect you against all colds and flus, but it will offer protection against the most common strain of flu that year. If you do get sick, stay home and rest.
Measure Your Peak Flow Every Day
You should really be measuring your peak flow using a peak flow meter every day all year round, but if you’re not doing it during the other three seasons of the year, you should at least do it during the winter.
If you know what your normal baseline is, then your peak flow readings can alert you to a dangerous flare-up days before symptoms become noticeable. Then you can take additional medications to prevent the onset of serious symptoms. The American Lung Association recommends that you call your doctor as soon as your peak flow reading drops below 80 percent of your normal baseline reading.
Have a Rescue Kit Handy
Even if you do everything possible to control your asthma during the winter, you may still experience a flare-up — especially if you develop a respiratory infection. You need to have a rescue emergency kit handy so you can get quick relief of your symptoms if they deteriorate rapidly.
In addition to a rescue inhaler, your doctor may also want to prescribe corticosteroids or other medications that can bring fast relief of asthma symptoms in a hurry. Keep these medications nearby, especially when you’re suffering from a cold or flu, and especially at night. You’re most likely to need rescue medications between 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. when you’re suffering from a cold or flu. Your doctor may also recommend you use a nebulizer before you go to bed at night, in order to ease cold and flu symptoms and help you breathe easier until morning.
Winter can be a challenging time of year for people with asthma. Seasonal colds and flus, as well as the weather itself, can trigger asthma flare-ups that can be quite severe. Take steps to protect yourself from potential triggers, and have plenty of medicine on hand to treat any symptoms that do arise.