Meet the expert: Sonia Munde is Head of Helpline at Asthma UK.
If you have asthma, you may notice your symptoms are being triggered more often at the moment. In fact, in a recent survey for Asthma UK, 65 per cent said cold weather triggered symptoms. The reason? Inhaling cold air can cause your sensitive airways to become twitchy, leading to symptoms. Meanwhile, winter cold and flu viruses can cause inflammation in the airways, which may result in asthma symptoms. Fortunately, there are steps you can put in place to ease symptoms.
- Make sure your asthma’s well managed
“If your asthma’s well managed, you’re much less likely to react to any triggers you come across," says Sonia. “This means taking your preventer inhaler as prescribed, following a written asthma action plan and making sure you go for regular asthma reviews at your GP practice.”
- Watch your symptoms
Having symptoms – even if you only notice them when it’s cold or you’re run-down – can be a sign your asthma’s not as well managed as it could be. So see your GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible. “They may suggest small changes that can make a big difference,” says Sonia. “For example, even if you think you’re using your inhalers properly, it’s easy to slip into bad habits, so get your inhaler technique reviewed. If you can’t get an appointment at your GP practice, your pharmacist should be able to check it for you.” Asthma attacks often follow a period during which symptoms get gradually worse – so don’t just assume that lingering wheeze is down to the cold you had recently. Get checked and cut your risk of having a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
- Stay warm
When you go outside, make sure you’re well wrapped up, and always keep your chest and neck area warm. You could also wear a scarf loosely across your nose and mouth, to help warm up the air you breathe in. And always carry your reliever inhaler with you. Be aware that very cold temperatures can affect how well it works – so keep it in your pocket rather than your handbag to keep it warmer.
- Take care with exercise
When you exercise, you tend to breathe faster and through your mouth, so the air is colder and drier than it is when you inhale through your nose (which warms the air up). This can cause your airways to get twitchy, which can trigger asthma symptoms. You should definitely keep active – not only is it important for overall health, it’s also a key part of asthma management, as it helps you keep to a healthy weight and may improve lung function. But make some tweaks. Shift your workout indoors on very cold days - swap your morning jog for a Zumba class, for example - or go out later in the day. Warm up thoroughly, make sure you’re dressed appropriately for the weather, and always keep your reliever inhaler to hand.
- Cut your risk of a cold
You’re more likely to be exposed to viruses at this time of year as you’re spending more time indoors with other people. Washing your hands regularly is one of the best ways to lower your risk. The flu jab is recommended for some people over 65, and some people of any age with asthma. But if you haven’t had one, don’t worry. “Not everyone with asthma needs a flu jab – speak to your GP or asthma nurse to see whether they’d recommend it for you,” says Sonia. It’s best to have the vaccination in the autumn, before flu season starts, but you can still have one later in the winter if there are stocks left.
Could it be asthma?
Have you noticed symptoms like coughing, wheezing and chest tightness – even though you’ve never been diagnosed with asthma? It’s a myth asthma always starts in childhood – in fact, you can develop it as an older adult, and some women develop it for the first time around or after menopause. “Hormone changes seem to be linked to asthma in some women, although we don’t know exactly why,” says Sonia. If you’ve noticed these symptoms, see your GP as soon as possible. If you do have asthma, getting the right treatment can help stop it getting in the way of life, and reduce your risk of having an asthma attack, which can be life threatening.
To find out more, visit www.asthma.org.uk or call the Helpline on 0300 222 5800
Article by Charlotte Haigh
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