As winter weather rolls in, so do colds and flu.
But for those with asthma, it can be an especially stressful time of year
because even a simple cold virus can trigger a major asthma event.
"In asthma, the lungs are already irritable and more reactive. So any
virus that impacts the lungs has a propensity for creating more problems,
including bringing on an asthma event faster and easier than many people
realize," says Jonathan Field, MD, director of the Allergy and Asthma
Clinic at NYU Medical Center/Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
Can you recognize the symptoms of an asthma attack? Being acutely aware of asthma attack symptoms is crucial to preventing an asthma emergency.
Some asthma attack symptoms such as wheezing are easy to identify. Yet other asthma attack symptoms such as feelings of anxiety or panic are not as well known. Some people may have an itchy chin before they start to feel short of breath and cough. Still others may only have symptoms at nighttime (called nocturnal asthma). As soon as you notice your asthma...
And that, experts tell WebMD, is more likely to happen during the fall and
winter months. In one study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical
Immunology in 2005, researchers identified what they came to call the
"September epidemic," an upswing in the number of children admitted to
emergency rooms for the treatment of acute asthma
symptoms in the fall months.
The study concluded that one reason behind the increase was the start of the
school season -- and a greater exposure to cold and flu viruses.
While you or your child may not be able to avoid these exposures, there are
ways to stay safe and healthy. Among the most important: Take control of your
winter asthma symptoms before other problems occur.
This simple tenet is so important that in new guidelines set down by the
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in August 2007, doctors put
special emphasis on the need to encourage better day-to-day symptom
"Asthma affects over 22 million Americans, including 6.5 million
children, but there is one truth: Asthma control is achievable for nearly every
patient ... As health care providers, we should accept nothing less," NHLBI
Director Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD, said when the new guidelines were
A good way to gain control is to become more vigilant about taking your
"This is especially [important] in patients who have been noncompliant
with their asthma regimens in the past," says Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary
specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Because many patients feel better in warm weather, by the time fall and
winter roll around they may see less of a need to take the drugs designed to
control their asthma symptoms. But this, says Field, is a huge mistake.
"If there is any time of the year to be more compliant about your
medication, it's certainly the start of the winter season," he says.
The new NHLBI report recommends the use of daily inhaled corticosteroid
medications to prevent problems in young children during cold and flu
Your Winter Asthma Action Plan
Another way to avoid problems -- during the winter or anytime -- is to
create and stick to an asthma
action plan. This is an organized system of care that can help you triage
your symptoms in the event a problem does occur.