What is Cold-Induced Asthma?


What is Cold-Induced Asthma?

Cold-induced asthma, otherwise known as winter asthma, occurs when a person with asthma is exposed to cold and dry air, which intensifies their condition. Winter asthma increases the likelihood of asthma attacks occurring.

In this post, we’ll examine who is most susceptible to cold-induced asthma, what the specific triggers are and how to prevent and treat it. We’ll also share how to get help from Western Washington Medical Group.

Who is the most vulnerable?

The most vulnerable groups for cold-induced asthma are individuals who already have severe cases of asthma. People who are prone to getting the flu or common colds are also at an increased risk of winter asthma due to inflammation in their airways.

In addition, asthmatic patients who primarily stay indoors may be exposed to allergens such as mold and dust that can also cause respiratory issues. Folks with minor cases of asthma are still susceptible to winter asthma, but are less likely to be impacted.

Symptoms of cold-induced asthma

Sufferers of asthma should watch for cold-induced asthma symptoms such as:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • difficulty speaking and
  • a tightening of the chest when exposed to cold air

What can trigger cold-induced asthma?

There are two factors involved in the causes of cold-induced asthma: cold air and dry air. Inhaling either or both can cause airways to tighten. This can produce spasms and coughing, which may result in an asthma attack.

Exercise can also sometimes be a trigger, as some people breathe more through their mouths when exercising. Breathing through the nose does a better job of warming the air before it reaches the lungs.

How to prevent cold-induced asthma

There are many ways to reduce the chances of getting cold-induced asthma:

  • Stay current with any medications that you take
  • Clean and replace indoor filters for your heating ducts regularly
  • Keep your home dry to inhibit the growth of dust mites
  • Use humidifiers in the home, but make sure to keep them mold-free
  • Get a flu shot
  • Wash hands, wear a mask and practice good personal hygiene to lessen the chances of catching a cold
  • Limit outdoor exercise, but when you do, use your inhaler 15 minutes prior to starting to open up your airways
  • Warm up thoroughly before all workouts
  • Drink extra fluids to keep the mucus in your lungs thinner
  • Wash sheets and blankets once or twice per week in hot water
  • Wear hats and scarves to help warm the air you’re breathing when outside
  • Listen to your body—if you go places and activities that typically cause a flare-up, consider avoiding them
  • Create an asthma action plan with help from medical professionals

What does treatment look like?

Treatment for a winter asthma attack usually begins with a short-acting inhaler, which may contain albuterol. If you feel an attack coming on, seek shelter in a warmer environment to start breathing warmer air as fast as possible.

If the symptoms aren’t relieved by these actions, and the cold-induced asthma returns often, your healthcare provider may refer you to a Pulmonologist for longer-term treatments. These might include leukotriene receptor inhibitors, long-acting beta agonists, or inhaled corticosteroids, as determined by your healthcare provider.

Where to seek help for asthma attacks

If you or a loved one need help managing symptoms or would like guidance from a WWMG medical professional to create a winter asthma action plan, contact Western Washington Medical Group Family Practice to request an appointment. For patients with severe asthma, request an appointment with our Pulmonary team.