coughing people surrounded by cold air and cold food and drinks

Cold Temperatures Triggering Your Asthma?

Brrr! I'm looking out my office window at beautiful snow-covered mountains. And my lungs are fine - as long as I am inside. Once I step outside, they get cranky. If there is a drastic change in temperatures, my lungs throw a fit. This is hard in winter because I have to go from my cozy house to a freezing cold garage, and back into my warm office. And my lungs do NOT like that. Cue the asthma attack. What's with the cold air causing an asthma attack?!

Cold air and asthma

My asthma colleague John is a registered respiratory therapist. He explains why our lungs don't like cold temperatures:1

"Cold air holds less water than warm air. So, cold air tends to be drier than warm air. So, not only can it cool airways, but it can also dry them. It’s this combination of cooling and drying of airways that is suspected of triggering asthma symptoms."

Well, that makes sense. But what if you can't avoid being outside in the cold? Some people find that wrapping a scarf around their nose and mouth warms up the air just enough so they don't have such a tough time breathing.

Kids may like to do a "Darth Vader impression." If they cup their hands over their nose and mouth and breathed in and out, it can help warm up the air before they breathe in. And kids think it's hilarious that they sound like Darth Vader!

What about cold food and asthma?

Did you know that it's not just cold weather? That things we eat or drink can trigger an asthma attack? Well, I didn't either until a few years ago.

We were short on space at work, so my intern was sharing my large office. One morning she asked me if I had just eaten a yogurt. I thought that was a weird conversation to be having, but yes - I had just eaten a yogurt.

She noticed that every time I eat my morning yogurt, I start coughing. Hmmmm.

For the rest of the week, I paid attention to how I felt after I ate a yogurt, and she was right! I started out with a tickle in my throat (my early warning sign), and then the coughing started. Not enough that I needed my inhaler, but enough to see a pattern and realize that my body does NOT like cold food. Duly noted.

The same thing happened when I had a smoothie, only it was much worse. I had a pretty nasty asthma attack and lost my voice.

Okay, I get it! My lungs don't like cold temperatures - either breathing in cold air, or eating or drinking cold foods. Fine.

How can my story help others?

When I provide virtual asthma education to families, I share stories to help them remember things. When we talk about asthma triggers, I share The Yogurt Story. That story helped someone realize they had asthma!

Before COVID, I was helping a family learn more about asthma. An older family member was nearby, but I didn't think they were listening. Later, they became sick and started coughing. That family member told the parent that they thought they had asthma. When the parent questioned them, the family member said they overheard my Yogurt Story. And they realized that every time they ate or drank something cold, they started coughing too.

The parent took this sick family member into the clinic, and they were also diagnosed with asthma. Wow! It did help to share The Yogurt Story.

Do cold weather and/or cold food or drinks affect your asthma too?

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