Wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and a tight chest are all symptoms of asthma, a disease which affects approximately 3.9 million South Africans daily. People with asthma need extra TLC during cold and flu season.
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.
Asthma is basically a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and while the exact cause of asthma is unknown, scientists and doctors do know that certain triggers such as exercise, allergens and air pollutants, can bring on an attack. The severity and time of the onset can vary from person to person but colder weather is always a danger sign.
“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 Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth.
According to research done by Fedhealth on the prevalence (cases per 1000 beneficiaries) of asthma within the Fedhealth population, children between the ages of 1 and 10 fall within a high risk group as do adults 65 years of age and older.
“Fortunately, there are many things you can do to lead a symptom-free life,” says Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth and he emphasizes that 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.
“There are two challenges for people with asthma in the winter. One is that they spend more time inside. The other is that it’s cold outside,” says Jordan.
While you’re indoors, you breathe in asthma triggers such as mould, pet dander, dust mites, and even fires in the fireplace. When you venture out, you could have an asthma attack from inhaling the cold air.
Fedhealth offers the following tips to breathe easier during the cold months.
Learn Your Triggers
When you inhale something that triggers your asthma, your airways — the tubes in your lungs that carry air — can become tight and clogged with mucus. You may cough, wheeze, and struggle to catch your breath.
Talk to your doctor about having tests to find out what your triggers are. Once you know them, you can make some changes at home that may help:
- Limit time around pets. Having a dog or cat in your home may trigger your asthma. Try to keep it out of the bedroom. Curbing allergy triggers where you sleep can make a big difference.
- Cover bedding. If mites are a trigger, use mite-proof covers on the mattress, box springs, and pillows which keep the dust mites away overnight.
- Keep the house cool and dry – dust mites as well as mould don’t grow very well when it’s cool and dry.
Jordan says since the common cold and flu are both more likely to strike in the winter and can lead to asthma flare-ups, you can also lower your family’s risk of these illnesses, through ensuring you always wash your hands; by staying away from people who are ill and by considering getting a flu shot.
The key, believes Jordan, is keeping your asthma under control. “Always work closely with your doctor. Regular assessment of asthma control allows your doctor to tailor your asthma treatment to your current needs,” concludes Jordan.