Dealing with Asthma in the Wintertime

Jan 19, 2016

Now that wintertime is here, we are able to enjoy fun outdoor activities like skating, skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing. One would assume, it is an especially good time for asthmatics because they do not need to deal with pollen, grass or smoky air. However, the cold season, especially the ones we experience in Manitoba can lead to unexpected symptoms like wheezing, coughing or tightness in the chest. Add the cold or flu into the situation and asthma issues can get quite serious.

While staying indoors away from the cool crisp air might seem like an easy solution, asthmatics still have to deal with dust mites, pet dander and certain chemical fumes when indoors. Understanding what triggers your asthma, how you can prevent shortness of breath, and how to use your medication to your best advantage can help you maximize the fun of a Manitoba winter.

Asthmatics usually blame the cold air for not being able to do physical activity outdoors in the winter. However; we have come to realize the dry air and lack of humidity is more to blame than the temperature. If the air is dry, our airways dry out. When the airways dry out our body tries to fix them by producing inflammatory responses, including those that will constrict the airways and increase mucous production.

If you are asthmatic, make sure you are heading outdoors with your asthma under control. Your preventative inhalers such as Flovent, Pulmicort, Advair or Symbicort and should be used regularly to keep your inflammation under control. If you regularly have shortness of breath in the wintertime, your health care provider may get you to increase or even double the dose of your long acting (preventative) inhaler. Remember we are using these inhalers to prevent symptoms, so even though we do not feel them working, it is crucial to use them regularly.

If you know you will be doing moderate exercise outside use your recommended dose of rescue inhaler (Ventolin - Blue puffer) about 15-20 minutes before the activity. Be sensible. Do not attempt anything too physically demanding and it might be best to stay in if the temperature is below -20 Celsius. If you are doing a strenuous activity warm up and then gradually increase the intensity level.

Keeping control of your asthma will also require you use your medication properly. Do you know if your asthma is in control or not? If you have been through a blue inhaler in the past three months or require it multiple times per week because you are short of breath, your asthma is not in control. If you are caring for children or the elderly, make sure proper inhaler technique is being followed. If you are unsure of how to use an inhaler properly your pharmacist would be happy to show you how. Breathing through your nose is also a good measure to take. Air inhaled through your nose is moister as it hits the airways, and will likely create less of an allergic or inflammatory response.

If anyone says quitting smoking was easy, why do smokers stand outside in -40 degree weather to have their cigarette? Quitting smoking is one of the toughest health challenges, but will do wonders for you and your family members, especially if they are asthmatics. If you are a smoker and are sick of having to go out in these temperatures or even possibly find yourself short of breath while smoking outside, your pharmacist can help you attempt to quit.

And we cannot forget that getting a flu shot is recommended for all asthmatics. Even though our health regions clinics have ended you can still receive at Flu Shot at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy free of charge. If you are 65 years of age or older and have not had your Pneumonia vaccine, we can do that free of charge as well. Along with updating your vaccinations, make sure you are practicing good hand washing technique and be sure to cover your sneezes. It is also recommended to limit handshakes and avoid contact with hand railings and door knobs in public places.


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