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Deb Gordon

Deborah D. Gordon has spent her career trying to level the playing field for healthcare consumers. She is co-founder of Umbra Health Advocacy, a marketplace for patient advocacy services, and co-director of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, the premiere membership organization for independent advocates. She is the author of "The Health Care Consumer's Manifesto: How to Get the Most for Your Money," based on consumer research she conducted as a senior fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School's Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. Deb previously spent more than two decades in healthcare leadership roles, including chief marketing officer for a Massachusetts health plan and CEO of a health technology company. Deb is an Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellow, an Eisenhower Fellow and a Boston Business Journal 40-under-40 honoree. Her contributions have appeared in JAMA Network Open, the Harvard Business Review blog, USA Today, RealClear Politics, The Hill and Managed Care Magazine. She earned a BA in bioethics from Brown University and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.

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Why Asthma Gets Worse in Cold Weather

Why Asthma Gets Worse in Cold Weather

As temperatures drop in the winter, you may find your asthma gets worse. Why does that happen and what can you do about it?

Conditions & Treatments

Medically reviewed byDr. Bayo Curry-Winchell, M.D., MS, Urgent Care Medical Director and Family Medicine Physician

Infographic Why Asthma Gets Worse in Cold Weather. Click the image to open the PDF

Why is asthma often worse in the winter?

  • Cold air

Cold air can trigger spasms in the muscles that keep your airways open. These spasms can trigger asthma flare-ups.

  • Dry air

Dryness in the air, as often happens in the winter, can irritate your airways, cause coughing and problems breathing.

  • Changes in air pressure Even in warmer climates, unstable weather during winter months can create fluctuations in air pressure which can trigger asthma symptoms. Wind and rain can also stir up asthma triggers such as mold spores.
  • Exercise Exercising in cold weather can trigger asthma symptoms or make them worse. You’re more likely to breathe through your mouth when you exercise, but when you do that in the cold, it can force cold air directly into your airways and dry out the mucus lining of your bronchial tubes.
  • Respiratory illnesses In the winter, colds, flu and other respiratory viruses are common. These illnesses lead to airway inflammation. They thicken the mucus in bronchial tubes, making asthma symptoms worse.
  • More time indoors If you live in a cold climate, you likely spend a lot more time inside during the winter than in other seasons. That means you’re getting more exposure to indoor asthma triggers such as dust, mold, pet dander and other irritants.

How to ease asthma symptoms in the winter

Common asthma symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in your chest

To ease these symptoms in cold weather:

  • Make and follow an asthma action plan so you know what to do if you encounter triggers.
  • If you use a short-acting inhaler, also called a rescue or emergency inhaler, always have it on hand so you can use it at the first sign of symptoms.
  • If you exercise outside, warm up before you go and wear warm layers (such as a scarf) to reduce the amount of exposure your lungs receive to cold air. Also cover your nose and mouth with a scarf so you breathe in warm air.

How to avoid asthma attacks in cold weather

  • Minimize your exposure to cold air : Work out indoors if possible. Cover your nose and mouth with a scarf so you breathe in warm air.
  • Get vaccinated : Protect yourself from respiratory illnesses. Get your flu shot and any other vaccines your healthcare provider recommends.
  • Wash your hands : Avoid the spread of germs to protect yourself from getting common colds and other illnesses that can trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Manage indoor triggers : Make sure your home has clean filters for heating and cooling ducts. Keep your home cool and dry to prevent the growth of mold and dust mites. Be mindful of pet dander.

This resource was created with support from Covis.

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