If you’re one of the nearly 25 million Americans who have asthma, then you know how winter’s cold air can ramp up your symptoms.
No one is sure what causes this chronic bronchial disorder, but the onset of coughing, wheezing and breathing difficulties can happen unexpectedly, with symptoms ranging from rare to frequent and mild to severe.
Fortunately, there are ways to help keep your asthma under control in the cold weather.
How Cold Weather Affects Asthma
People with asthma have more mucus-producing cells in the lining of the airway and more smooth muscle surrounding the bronchial tubes.
During an attack, the airway’s muscles spasm and tighten up, causing the body to release white blood cells to fight what the body “thinks” is a threat. But since no infection is present, the cells have nothing to fight off, leaving them in limbo.
This irritates and stiffens the airway tissues, which causes swelling of the membrane lining the tract. That, in turn, causes mucus to collect, triggering the asthma sufferer to try coughing it out of his or her system. This episode may lead to wheezing, accompanied by a sudden loss of breath.
Colder air doesn’t warm up right away when it reaches the lungs, so the lungs react by releasing histamine, a substance that causes wheezing. Frosty air also thickens the “mucus blanket” that coats and protects the lungs, making it harder to rid the body of inhaled particles. What's more, a less-effective mucus blanket invites infection.
Asthma tends to exaggerate the entire process.
Nasal stuffiness also tends to increase in cold weather, since the nose produces more, and thicker, mucus compared with other times of the year.
Asthma can be life threatening, so it’s vital to get a definitive diagnosis from a healthcare provider who specializes in this condition. Your asthma will be classified as either “mild,” “moderate” or “severe.”
Exercising Outdoors When You Have Asthma
Don’t let the cold stop you from maintaining your exercise routine.
When going out into wintry conditions, be sure to cover your mouth and nose with a scarf, and breathe through it to warm and moisten the air. On bitterly cold days, choose the gym or an indoor pool instead.
Wherever you exercise, warm up and cool down properly. And know your limits so as not to trigger an attack.
Natural Ways to Control Asthma
Lifestyle changes can go a long way towards helping you keep your asthma under control.
Eating to Control Asthma
The cornerstone of treatment is avoiding whatever triggers an attack, starting with what you eat.
Most people with asthma have food allergies or sensitivities, which make it worse. The most common allergies are dairy, wheat and gluten, eggs, soy and corn.
Here are some dietary suggestions for maintaining healthy lungs:
- Consume a dairy- and gluten-free diet and drink plenty of water to keep the lungs hydrated.
- Consider switching to a vegetarian and whole-food diet, which supports immune health.
- Avoid processed foods (especially refined flours and sugars), which can contribute to problems with immune regulation.
You should also consider eating more of the following foods:
- Fatty fish, which contains omega-3 fats and vitamin D
- Citrus fruits, which contain vitamin C
- Whole grains and leafy vegetables, which supply magnesium
- Fermented foods such as yogurt, which provide probiotics
Easing Stress to Improve Asthma Control
Reducing stress can also help keep asthma under control, and many people have found practices such as massage, acupuncture, yoga, deep breathing and meditation to be helpful.
Maintaining Healthy Indoor Air
Indoor air quality can have a significant effect on asthma control. Keep your furnace filter clean, and use a room humidifier and air purifier as needed. It also helps to wash your hands frequently as a way to help ward off germs.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.