Spring is approaching, and your asthma is…improving? That very well might be the case! While springtime allergies and asthma get lots of attention (and with good reason), your asthma can worsen in the winter. In the spring, allergens like pollen grass can act as triggers—causing asthma symptoms to flare up. However, if you notice that your asthma symptoms are getting better, you're not imagining things.
I know this first hand. As someone who doesn't have severe asthma, I've wondered if another issue could be causing my lungs to forget how to work, my chest to hurt, and my wheezing to be more prominent in the winter. Maybe acid reflux? Not exercising often enough? To get a better idea, I asked a doctor if asthma might be the culprit behind my cold weather symptoms—and the chance is likely.
In fact, asthma causes more excess winter deaths than other conditions, in which the number of people who die peaks in January and continues into February and March. Asthma is relatively common, too: About 1 in 13 Americans have it. "The most common trigger for an asthma attack is getting an upper respiratory infection," says David Beatty, MRCGP, MBBS, DRCOG, a doctor of medicine who's been a general practitioner for over 30 years. He explained this kind of infection is most common in the winter months.
However, you don't have to have an infection for cold weather to exacerbate your asthma, according to Dr. Beatty, the cold weather alone can do it. "Some asthmatics find they get wheezy when going out from a warm indoor temperature to the cold outside," he says. "Many asthmatics struggle when there is a rapid temperature drop in the evening."
Here's how it happens: The dry, cold air can make your muscles spasm and lead to inflammation in your airways. Plus, rainy, windy weather can cause mold, which irritates your lungs and makes breathing harder.
How to control your asthma when facing the elements
If your asthma gets worse in cold weather (or even rainy, windy conditions), Dr. Beatty first recommends getting all of your vaccines, including the ones for the flu, COVID, and those you get as a child, since those conditions can worsen asthma. Additionally, remember other best practices, like trying to keep your distance from people who have a cough.
Then, when you're going out, do it slowly and dress right. When you're transitioning from a warm to a cold environment, Dr. Beatty suggests doing so gradually. He says simple measures like using a scarf around your mouth and nose (or wearing a mask) may prevent keep symptoms at bay.
And, if your symptoms get worse during the spring, please know that's normal, too. If you haven't already, talk to your doctor ASAP because this time between seasons when the weather changes can trigger asthma symptoms. It's not just the cold, dry air—the hot, humid air can also do it.
Here's the bottom line: Even though springtime allergens get lots of attention, going outside in the winter—or even when it's just cold out—can exacerbate your asthma (ugh). But, taking precautions, such as doing it gradually, covering your mouth and nose with a scarf, and seeing a doctor, can make it more bearable (phew).