If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a minute, as the saying goes. While many people love New England and its changes of seasons and diversity of weather, those with asthma may be impacted by changes in weather and temperatures.
People with asthma recognize their symptoms can vary with the seasons. It’s more than just pollen or cold weather that can trigger an asthma attack. Changes in weather can also affect one’s respiratory health. With increases in temperatures and more severe storms, people with asthma are at higher risk of weather triggering an asthma flare.
Asthma is inflammation within your airways, which cause them to narrow and tighten up. Most of the time it can be managed with medication, but often when temperature or weather changes occur, it will trigger the inflammation causing it to become worse. People with asthma already have inflamed airways, the more severe the asthma, the more likely the weather is to affect them.
Climate change affects the duration of seasons and contributes to more erratic weather patterns. Those changes are causing plants to release pollen earlier and it lasts longer. When it’s 65 degrees one day and 45 degrees the next, asthma patients are more likely to experience symptoms. There are millions of tiny nerve endings in the lungs that are very sensitive to changes in temperature, humidity and barometric pressure. Air pressure fluctuations and barometric pressure trigger sinus episodes, and sinusitis is a common trigger for asthma symptoms.
Weather can also affect pollen counts. This can cause asthma symptoms in those with allergic asthma. When hard rain from a thunderstorm hits tiny pollen grains, it can break them up. This makes them even smaller and easier to inhale. The wind from the storm then carries the pollen grains where they can be inhaled into your lungs.
An especially rainy or humid season can also mean a spike in mold and dust-mite levels. Humidity helps common allergens like dust mites and mold thrive, aggravating allergic asthma. These allergens thrive in damp conditions both indoors and out. Thick and humid air can make it hard for an asthmatic to breathe. Keep a full water bottle with you at all times when you are out and about and try to stay indoors and limit your exposure to the heat.
For people with allergies and asthma, who may breathe air through the mouth more often, irritants, pollutants and pollen are more of a factor. You usually inhale through your mouth, causing the air to be dryer and cooler than when you breathe through your nose. The nose controls humidity without difficulty. Exercise that exposes you to cold, dry air is more likely to cause asthma symptoms than exercise involving warm and humid air.
It’s important to limit your time outdoors when it is very cold. If you have to be out, wearing a scarf over your mouth and nose can help warm the air as it enters your mouth and nose.
If you think weather plays a role in your asthma, keep track of your asthma symptoms and possible triggers on a calendar and discuss them with your doctor. If you suspect pollen, mold or other allergens make your asthma symptoms worse, ask about allergy testing. It is useful to keep an eye on the local pollen counts, especially if your asthma is the allergic kind, and air quality reports.
Today’s Health Talk was written by Sarah Cosgrove, RCP, CTTS-M, AE-C, Community Health Improvement at Rutland Regional Medical Center.