Cold weather can trigger asthma
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects children's breathing by causing bronchospasm or tightening of the airways, inflammation and increased mucous production. Inflammation makes the airway smaller, making it more difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. Many may think winter is better for children with asthma since pollen – a common asthma trigger – is at a low point, but the cold, dry air winter brings can present a challenge.
Breathing cold air can be a trigger for some people. In addition, the winter months bring with them an increase in sinus infections and upper respiratory viral infections that can trigger or worsen asthma. Exercise alone can be a trigger, but combine it with many winter activities such as sledding and skating, and the cold weather months can be long and dreary for children with asthma.
Asthma symptoms include:
- Coughing. For some children, coughing is the only symptom of asthma. It may occur only at night or during exercise.
- Wheezing (a high-pitched whistle when breathing).
- Chest tightness or pain.
- Shortness of breath (faster, more shallow breathing).
Wearing a scarf over the mouth and nose can help warm cold air and decrease irritation. During an asthma attack you can help your child stay calm and relaxed, and coach him or her to take slow, deep breaths while giving his prescribed rescue medication.
If this does not help, seek medical attention. Signs of a severe attack that require emergency care include:
- Wheezing that does not improve after taking the bronchodilator or rescue medication.
- Difficulty talking or playing.
- Breathing that gets faster or harder. Children are having difficulty breathing if they are bending over to breathe, flaring their nostrils or raising their shoulders. If a child's lips or fingernails turn blue, go to an emergency room immediately.
Medications that relieve the symptoms of asthma include the bronchodilators or rescue medications that help airways open and relax, and long-term controller or anti-inflammatory medication that help prevent inflammation and production of mucous.
Bronchodilators such as Albuterol can quickly control a breathing problem. They usually are taken after a child starts to have breathing problems. Anti-inflammatory medications are taken daily, even if your child is not wheezing. Your doctor will decide which medicines your child need based on symptoms and frequency of episodes.
The more informed you are about your child's asthma triggers and management, the less asthma symptoms will interfere with his or her activities. It is important to work with your physician on a management plan, and take appropriate medications as prescribed.