If you’re one of the 25 million Americans with asthma, then you’re probably well-versed with the triggers you have to watch out for. Walking past the fragrance counter, visiting your friend who has 4 cats, or visiting your struggling actor cousin who lives in LA (cough *smog* cough) can send you running for your inhaler or nebulizer. But depending on where you live — and what the weather’s been like that year — the four seasons can bring their own hurdles when it comes to easy breathing. While many problematic things die off in colder months, fall and winter have their own pitfalls when it comes to people with breathing sensitivities.
There are different kinds of asthma, as the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) points out. Substances that cause allergies (allergens) can trigger asthma. If you inhale something you are allergic to, you may experience asthma symptoms. If this is the case, it’s best to avoid or limit contact with known allergens so you can decrease or prevent asthmatic episodes. Some allergens that have been known to cause allergic asthma include:
- dust mites
- pet dander
- cockroaches (or their droppings)
Cold weather, in an of itself, can also be a trigger, especially for asthmatics. According to the AAFA, cold, dry air, as well as changes in the weather, can bring on an asthmatic episode. Environmental irritants can also trigger asthma attacks, and some are especially particular to certain times of the year. These can bother the inflamed, sensitive airways of people with asthma or breathing challenges:
- cigarette smoke
- smog, air pollution and/or ozone
- wood fires
- charcoal grills
- VOCs like those found in strong fumes (paint, gasoline and chemicals), vapors, or odors (like perfumes and scented soaps)
- dusts and particulate in the air
In addition, occurrences like rain and wind can stir up allergens like pollen, which can also worsen asthma symptoms. Dr. Warner Carr told The Weather Channel that while rain often washes pollen out of the environment, it first bursts open those pollen particles, spreading allergens farther. “During a rainstorm, the pollen in your environment gets saturated and fractures, releasing small particles into the air at a much higher concentration,” he explained. “When patients inhale them it causes a syndrome called ‘thunderclap asthma.'”
Exercise can also be a frequent asthma trigger — particularly in colder months. The AAFA added that those with asthma should take particular care during colder months, especially if they’re participating in any type of outdoor activity. Dr. Steve Georas, the director of pulmonary and critical care medicine and the director of the Mary Parkes Center for Asthma, Allergy and Pulmonary Care at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York told Health.com that t”he combination of cold air and exercise can act as a double whammy.” Cold air can cause bronchoconstriction, meaning the airways narrow — which can then cause one’s breathing to become stressed.
Other breathing triggers include cold-weather staples like a proliferation of mold, pet dander and dust mites located inside the home. These can also trigger existing asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Along with the presence of cockroaches and other pests, these common indoor allergens have been identified as some of the reasons that rates of asthma are higher among children in inner city neighborhoods, according to reports on weather.com.
And respiratory illnesses themselves — which seem to spike during colder months when people are more likely to be confined indoors — can also contribute to asthma attacks. They include:
- sore throat
- sinus infections
If you have asthma, it can be useful to know what triggers apply to you so you can avoid them when venturing outdoors. If, like a lot of people, you spend the cooler months mostly indoors, making sure you take care of your indoor air quality can have a positive result as well. Removing as much dirt, particulate and dust from inside your home as possible is a good start. Vacuum several times a week, especially if you or family members are tracking in dirt, snow, ice or other particles that could act as triggers. Using a vacuum with a sealed HEPA filter ensures that those particles, once trapped, won’t escape the machine and re-enter your air supply. Quality air purifiers can also neutralize or remove many of the allergens from your indoor space that can trigger asthma attacks.