Asthma attacks can vary with the weather, so it’s important to know the main triggers…
By Dr Shweta Bansal
Given its tendency to flare up without warning, asthma can hinder the personal and professional lives of victims. While asthma is said to peak in winters, changing weather can also trigger attacks. Therefore, it’s imperative every asthmatic knows the triggers that can spark unwanted attacks.
The fact remains, however, that asthma could be aggravated at any time of the year – summer, monsoon, winter or spring – caused by notorious asthma triggers such as pet dander, second-hand smoke and vigorous exercise. Recognising varied seasonal allergens could help in minimising one’s vulnerability to temperature, humidity, pollen, pollution and viruses.
Asthmatics are more vulnerable in winters simply because colds can be common during this season. Any respiratory tract infection worsens the chronic lung inflammation of asthma patients, leading to coughing, wheezing, difficulty in breathing and asthma. Indeed, almost 50% of wheezing episodes in adults and around 80% in children can be attributed to the common cold, flu and other respiratory infections.
Unlike a cold, though, which may taper off after a week, whether treated or not, asthma symptoms will linger for weeks and months together, if untreated. Asthma can be aggravated by cold, dry air, particularly when a person is exercising and inhaling more air or while outdoors. In some cases, simply being outdoors in the cold weather, especially in the morning, can ignite allergic symptoms.
If that’s the case, stay indoors as far as possible or remain suitably clad in layers when stepping out. The face should always be covered with a scarf. If winter pollution is an additional trigger, a suitable pollution mask should be used outside the home. For those who dislike missing their exercise regimen, an inhaled bronchodilator can be used 15 minutes before stepping out to counteract the cold air effect.
Yet, winters can be dangerous for asthmatics even indoors. Although tightly-shut windows keep out the cold air, heaters and humidifiers inside homes increase the internal warmth and humidity, encouraging indoor allergens. Dust mites and moulds thrive in high-humidity conditions and are dangerous for people with asthma. Moreover, without cross ventilation, indoor pollution from the kitchen and other areas pose another allergic threat. Therefore, when the afternoon sunlight streams inside, it’s essential to open the windows and doors to remove indoor pollutants via cross ventilation as well as allow natural light and aeration.
If prone to winter asthma, ensure you are protected from the flu and common cold by making suitable lifestyle changes, including dietary ones. A simple warm saltwater gargle (with one teaspoon salt) a few times every week in winters can help prevent the common cold.
Once summer arrives, asthma attacks tend to drop for most people. Nonetheless, the heat and humidity may not suit some asthmatics. In polluted urban areas, for instance, traffic-related pollution and harsh sunlight combine to escalate ozone production – a strong asthma trigger. Pollution levels can also rise in summers with more moving vehicles increasing particulate matter and other pollutants. Considering the bad air conditions, asthmatics are more vulnerable to respiratory ailments and asthma attacks.
Again, precautions work best. Use a pollution mask when outdoors. Those driving cars can install air purifiers, which majorly minimise the pollution inside vehicles.
The other danger during summers is the spread of pollen, which can cause major attacks. Extremely-hot summers can also lead to sudden thunderstorms, which could trigger asthma. Strong winds whipped up by thunderstorms spread moulds, fungal spores and pollen grains. Sudden showers accompanying such storms disintegrate the allergens into myriad microscopic pieces, posing an invisible threat for asthmatics.
Staying indoors and using pollution masks can contain the chances of an attack. If a mask is unavailable, a wet handkerchief over the mouth can help keep pollen and pollutants at bay. Meanwhile, avoid keeping rugs, carpets and other items that can collect dust, mite and other allergens. If not, ensure these are cleaned or vacuumed regularly. Additionally, wash bed-sheets and pillow covers every week in hot water to eliminate dust mites and similar allergens.
Finally, whatever the season, keep inhalers and asthma medications handy at all times.