Winter can be tough on asthma sufferers: Cold, dry air can set off symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing and coughing. But you can reduce your exposure and minimize symptoms. Here are three triggers linked to cold weather, and tips to help protect your health:

Flu and common cold. Either (along with sinusitis and other infections) can spark a flare-up. The flu, in particular, is a big deal for asthmatics: It can lead to pneumonia and other complications, even if your asthma is mild or well-controlled by medications. The best way to prevent the flu: Get a vaccine shot every year. Slow the spread of a common cold by washing your hands (often); putting space between you and your sniffling, sneezing friends; and coughing into a tissue or the inner crook of your elbow to avoid contaminating your hands.

Dust. Allergic asthma is the most common type. At least 30% of adult cases are triggered by allergies. Colder temps keep people in sealed homes, surrounded by indoor allergens including dust, pollen, pet dander, cockroaches and mold. The dust on your shelves is made of many substances, including dust mites. And some dust-mite-sensitive people report their allergies get worse in winter. A recent study from the National Institutes of Health and Duke University found that a bacterial protein in household dust may make allergic responses to indoor allergens more severe and spur allergic asthma. You can’t escape dust, but you can clean your home at least once a week, encase pillows and mattresses in dust-proof covers, toss throw rugs and wash curtains and blinds.

Smoke. You know cigarette smoke can aggravate asthma, but so can smoke from a fireplace or wood-burning stove. Try not to burn wood at home. Or, to at least help reduce smoke, make sure the wood is dry and has been split, stacked, covered and stored for at least six months, says the Environmental Protection Agency.


January 24, 2013