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Asthma Health Center

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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.

Your Winter Asthma Action Plan continued...

The American Lung Association also advises patients to classify their peak flow meter readings and their symptoms into three zones -- and use them as a guide to determine how well your asthma is under control.

The three zones are:

  • Green Zone: Peak flow reading of 80%-100% of your usual "personal best" peak flow reading. The green zone indicates good asthma control.
  • Yellow Zone: Peak flow reading of 50%-80% of your usual peak flow reading. This indicates that your asthma control is not optimal. You may or may not notice symptoms such as cough or wheezing. Your asthma needs to be addressed according to the asthma action plan set up by you and your doctor.
  • Red Zone: Peak flow reading of less than 50% of your usual reading. This indicates poor asthma control needing rescue medications. Make sure to follow your asthma plan regarding use of rescue drugs and seeking medical attention.

Particularly during cold and flu season, the American Lung Association recommends that you strive to remain in the green zone and contact your doctor as soon as you begin dropping into the yellow zone.

Asthma and Cold Medicines: What You Should Know

If you do find yourself with a cold or the flu, there is an abundance of over-the-counter medications that can help. But experts advise asthma patients to take some extra precautions and talk to their doctor before deciding what treatment to use. The reason: some over-the-counter medications can be harmful.

"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 products.

"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.

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