Asthma can be a bear, particularly during winter. But there are ways to keep flareups at bay. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Asthma can be a bear, particularly during winter. But there are ways to keep flareups at bay. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

There are many things to love about winter. Sledding, skiing, building snowmen … you get the idea.

But if you suffer from asthma, winter can be one of the most challenging times of the year.

John Schuen, MD, a pediatric pulmonologist at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, sees lots of kiddos and young adults with asthma-related issues.

He echoes the sentiment that cold weather is particularly tough on lungs and provided some of his top advice for how to stay active.

4 easy ways to help combat the wheeze:

1. Cover your mouth and breathe through your nose

Before heading outside make sure to cover your mouth with a scarf, turtleneck, neck gaiter or whatever you prefer. Covering you mouth helps warm up the outside air before it enters your lungs.

Dry and cold air is a prime trigger for airway narrowing, notes the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and focusing on warming and humidifying the air you breathe is key.

Breathing through your nose helps.

That may sound like a request from Ms. Manners, but breathing through your nose will help warm the air before it enters your lungs.

“We prefer that children stay active and involved in sports, even in the winter,” Dr. Schuen said.

He works with kids and teens who have cold-induced asthma to avoid issues when braving the outdoor temps. Sometimes that means suggesting the use of inhalers and medications “before going out into the cold Michigan winter.”

“This is in addition to covering your mouth with a scarf or face mask,” he added.

2. Take your exercise inside

Up to 90 percent of people with asthma encounter breathing difficulties while exercising. When you exercise, you generally breathe through your mouth, and the symptoms will only get worse if you’re breathing in cold or dry air.

For some people, this might include limiting activities like shoveling snow or playing outside in the winter months.

Consider taking your exercise indoors. Join a gym, invest in indoor exercise equipment, or learn some indoor routines that will keep you feeling great.

Definitely talk with your doctor about what you can do to prevent flareups while working out, such as warming up, pacing yourself, taking your medication prior to exercising, or the specific types of exercise you might want to consider. Sometimes short bursts of exercise or more leisurely exercise like walking or swimming work best.

3. Skip the cozy wood fires

We all know that cigarette smoke irritates asthma but did you know that fire smoke can have the same effect?

Wood smoke contains benzene, formaldehyde, acrolein and methane. Small particles from the smoke can lodge inside the lungs, sometimes deep, aggravating asthma and causing other breathing issues.

Gas fireplaces are a bit better, but they still release nitrogen dioxide, which can irritate the lungs.

Smoke is smoke and there’s no getting around the fact that it causes problems for people with asthma.

Another note in this area: Make sure to replace your furnace filter and vacuum your indoor space frequently during the winter to keep allergens such as smoke particles, mold and pet dander low.

4. Keep germs at bay

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, as many as eight out of 10 asthma attacks in children and four out of 10 in adults are triggered by viral infections.

Between RSV, the common cold, and the flu, winter is rife with viral hurdles. Get vaccinations, when possible. Wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer frequently, and try to steer clear of those who are sneezing or coughing around you.

Sometimes an infection can’t be avoided, so if you start to fall ill, stay home and keep yourself well-hydrated. Talk with your doctor about when you should seek medical care, or consider a MedNow video appointment so you can get treatment while at home. Try to keep your cold from turning into something more serious.