How to Maintain Asthma Control No Matter What the Season
The most common type of asthma is allergic asthma. Although the symptoms of allergic vs. non-allergic asthma are the same the things that trigger those symptoms can vary. With allergic asthma, your asthma control may vary, depending on the season of the year. In this post, we explore measures you can take to stay healthy, no matter what the season.
Here’s the deal — when you are sensitive to the environment, every season brings challenges. How you respond to the seasons will determine how well your asthma stays under control.
Winter Time Challenges
You might think that winter is the best time to have allergic asthma, because in most areas of the U.S., growing things are largely dormant, right? In some cases, this can be true, but winter brings its own challenges to people with asthma.
- You spend more time indoors. Because the weather may be cold or severe in other ways, you may find yourself spending more time indoors. This means you may be coming into closer contact with indoor allergens, such as dust mites, mold spores, insect droppings and pet allergens. Turning on furnaces can stir up dust and other allergens too.
- You are more likely to be exposed to respiratory illnesses. People with asthma are more at risk for picking up germs that can cause head colds, the flu and pneumonia. These germs are more prevalent in the winter, especially in indoor environments.
- You may be exposed more often to irritants. These are conditions or substances that irritate your already inflamed airways, even though they may not actually cause an allergic reaction. This can include: wood smoke from fireplaces, strong odors such as candle scents and cold outdoor air.
- You might still be exposed to allergens if you live in a warm climate. Some areas of the country rarely get cold enough to actually kill off plants that emit pollen into the air. Florida, Texas and other states are an example, although this year, even those states have been pretty cold. Also, some of the plant life in those states actually bloom in the winter. Texas, where my kids live, is famous for its severe cedar allergy season during the winter.
Threats to Asthma Control in the Spring Months
Spring is when plant life “awakens” and pollen begins to circulate. The windy conditions in spring can help distribute pollen spores far and wide, triggering asthma and allergy symptoms in sensitive people. Tree pollens are especially active during early spring. Here are some of the most common culprits:
- Western Red Cedar
Grass pollens begin to make their presence known in later spring, and can include these varieties:
- Bermuda grass
- Orchard grass
- Red top grass
- Sweet vernal grass
- Timothy grass
Not all of these trees and/or grasses may be present in the area in which you live. But if they are, and you are sensitive to them, you may notice an increase in your asthma symptoms.
One positive about spring may be the frequent, rainy days. When weather is wet, pollen tends not to fly around as much. Keep in mind, though, that you may spend more time indoors on rainy days, so then your challenges may be similar to the winter threats described above.
Summer Brings Its Own Asthma Control Challenges
As you might imagine, growing things continue to grow in the summer. In fact, in the warm, breezy days of summer, grass and then weed pollens flourish and spread. If you are allergic to such things, summer may be your most challenging season for asthma control. I know summertime is often hard for me, especially late summer, when ragweed pollen is everywhere.
Besides ragweed, these other weeds also can produce pollen that may irritate sensitive people:
- Russian thistle
Since summer may be when you most want to be outdoors, doing recreational activities, going on vacation and so forth, it can be very frustrating when your asthma symptoms are also acting up.
Fall Threats to Asthma Control
You might think that fall will bring some relief from summer allergies and the resulting asthma symptoms, but for many of us, fall is actually our worst season. Weed pollens are still in full force during early fall. Add to that an increase in outdoor mold spores as leaves fall and gardens go dormant. And then, cold weather may drive you indoors for longer periods.
So, in some ways, you might say fall is the “perfect storm” for allergic asthma sufferers.
Common mold varieties include:
Besides fallen leaves and soil, rotting wood such as that found in wood piles that you’ll bring in to burn in the fireplace or wood stove can also be a source of mold spores.
Molds also grow indoors in warm, moist environments such as the bathroom and basements. The outdoor molds, though, are the ones causing the most havoc in the fall. Environmental conditions definitely have an impact. The heat and humidity of early fall can definitely influence the level of circulating mold spores in the air.
How to Combat the Seasonal “Effect” on Asthma
None of this is meant to discourage you. If you have allergic asthma, it’s still possible to maintain your asthma control. But it may take some work. Here are a few of the things you need to do:
1. Identify your triggers & then take steps to avoid them. Depending on the season and your individual sensitivities, take the steps you need to avoid your triggers as much as you can. Total avoidance is unrealistic, but any measure you do take should lessen the impact of seasonal allergens. For example:
- Watch your local pollen and mold counts. When counts are high, stay indoors more if you can. Pollen counts tend to be highest on warm, windy days and mid-morning to noon.
- If you must go out, think about washing your clothes and showering/washing your hair when you come back in. Don’t hang clothing outdoors. When indoors, keep the windows closed and the air conditioning on.
2. Keep your indoor environment as clean as possible. Minimize carpeting and overstuffed furniture, as they tend to collect allergens, especially dust mites. Vacuum and dust frequently; wearing a mask can help reduce your exposure to dust mites being stirred up.
3. Take your medicine. Most people with asthma should be on some type of controller medication, usually an inhaled steroid, as well as a rescue inhaler. For allergic asthma, you may also find it helpful to take an oral or nasal antihistamine to help keep your allergy symptoms under control. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions for using these medications. Don’t run out and get caught short!
4. Use your Asthma Action Plan. An Asthma Action Plan can help you monitor your asthma control and take steps quickly at the first signs that control is slipping.
5. Warm the air you breathe during winter. One of my biggest asthma triggers during winter is breathing cold air. So I always wear a scarf or neck gaiter which I can pull up over my mouth and nose. This helps warm the air before it gets into your airways and can stave off asthma symptoms.
6. Avoid breathing in wood smoke. Whether it’s a camping or backyard fire or an indoor fireplace or wood stove, the resulting smoke can be very irritating if you have asthma. Reduce your exposure if you can.
While it is true that each season can bring unique challenges to the person with allergic asthma, it is also true that these seasonal threats can be managed. Take the time to understand which seasonal challenges apply to you and then take the appropriate actions to prevent and manage these challenges. Your asthma control depends upon it!