Breathe Easily: Winter Asthma Advice
People with asthma need extra TLC during cold and flu season. WebMD goes to the experts for advice on staying healthy all winter long.
Asthma and Cold Medicines: What You Should Know continued...
"Decongestants, for instance, can cause palpitations when used with bronchodilators [a standard asthma medication], and
even anti-inflammatory drugs other than acetaminophen may cause additional asthma
symptoms," says Horovitz.
Field adds that you might want to avoid all cold medicines containing
pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in decongestants and multi-symptom
"There are some studies to show it may dry out the passages, and though
it's still a matter of debate, there is definitely some data showing that this
effect may lead to a worsening of asthma symptoms," he says.
Pharmacy professor Nick Popovitch, PhD, agrees. "When you have asthma,
you don't want to use anything that could impact air passages in a negative
way. You don't want to use any drug that has a drying effect, because hydration
is key for controlling symptoms," says Popovitch, a professor of pharmacy
administration and a department head at the University of Illinois at Chicago
College of Pharmacy.
So what, if anything, can you safely use? Both Field and Popovitch suggest
talking to your doctor about local treatment with a nasal spray. Field says if
your doctor agrees, you can try either a decongestant nasal spray or a
plain saline nasal spray for relief.
Horovitz favors home remedies like a vaporizer or humidifier to hydrate the
air and help make breathing easier.
Perhaps most important: All the experts WebMD talked to warn never to depend
on any cold or flu medicine to control your asthma symptoms.
"Your regularly scheduled asthma
treatments remain the backbone plan for keeping symptoms under control.
Think of it as wearing a seatbelt or tying your shoes. And they should not be
skipped or missed, regardless of what else you may be doing to treat your cold
or flu," Field says.
Winter Asthma Rescue Remedies
Even if you follow all the rules, a cold or flu can still cause asthma
symptoms to spin out of control. For this reason, it's essential to be prepared
with a rescue emergency kit -- and know how to use it.
"For patients with asthma, the weakest time is usually between 3 and 4
in the morning. So if you have a cold or the flu, it's essential that you keep
a rescue inhaler next to your bed and know how to best use it for your
symptoms," says Zafarlotfi. The inhaler can contain any number of
fast-acting medications that work immediately to open up the airways and make
it easier to breathe.
She also advocates talking to your doctor about other types of medications,
such as corticosteroids, that can be used in an emergency, and whether or not
you need to have those on hand during cold and flu season.
Field also suggests talking to your doctor about using a nebulizer treatment
before bedtime. This is a device that changes liquid asthma medication into a
fine mist so it can be easily inhaled. If a cough is keeping you up a night, he
says a nebulizer treatment before bedtime can open the lungs and help you feel