A: Asthma is a chronic (long term) lung disease that causes three main problems in the airways: increased mucous production, inflammation and tightening. This narrows the airway, which causes symptoms such as chest tightness, coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing. When asthma patients inhale cold air, their airways tighten. Wearing a scarf over the face while outside helps warm the air before it enters the airways. Asthmatics should also try to exercise indoors during the winter. Respiratory infections can worsen asthma, so patients should get a flu shot each year and use proper hand-washing techniques (scrubbing with warm water and soap for at least 15 seconds) to protect themselves from infection.
One of the most important parts of controlling asthma during the winter months is the patient’s medication regimen. Patients should always keep their rescue inhaler nearby, especially at night. They should take their scheduled controller medications regularly to maintain asthma control, even if they feel their asthma is doing well. Being cooped up indoors in the winter can also cause problems. Mold, mildew, dust and, pet dander can worsen allergies, which affect asthma. Don’t allow pets in patients’ bedrooms. Vacuum and dust thoroughly and often, and wash fabrics such as sheets in hot water every week. Dust off holiday decorations before dragging them out of storage. Using a humidifier or vaporizer in a patient’s room may make breathing easier. Second-hand smoke and smoke from fireplaces or wood burning stoves can also worsen asthma. Keep the home a cigarette-free zone, and make sure the chimney is cleaned before using the fireplace.Written by Laura Jerome, Drake University PharmD Candidate 2012, provided by Hammer Pharmacy, 600 E. Grand Ave., East Village, 243-4177.