Like 1 in 9 Australians, I grew up with asthma. It was something that was often on my mind and particularly during winter when a bad flu and cold weather meant that I was often sick. Here in the Southern Hemisphere, winter is fast approaching and for people with asthma, it’s a good time to make sure your lungs are well taken care of.
Asthma is a disease that affects the lungs, where the airways of the lungs are quite sensitive and react to ‘triggers’. These triggers cause the airways to narrow down and to produce more mucus, causing people with asthma to have difficulty breathing with wheezing (a high pitched noise when they breathe) and sometimes a cough. In some circumstances, asthma is life threatening when an asthma attack means that person struggles to breathe. Common asthma triggers include cold air, colds and flus, animals and exercise.
In winter, people with asthma (or in fact any lung condition) may find their asthma worse, depending on their trigger. Common colds or flus are more common during the winter months and for people with asthma, 4 out of 5 people have a recent viral infection that causes a significant asthma attack or flare in their symptoms. So how can we keep asthma at bay in the cold?
For those people with asthma, before winter hits is a good time to see your doctor for a check of how your lungs are. This may entail a breathing test called spirometry to make sure your lungs are doing well. It may be a time to change or increase some medications. It’s also a good time to make sure you have an Asthma Action Plan which you can check out at Asthma Australia. It’s a plan that spells out what you need to look out for when it comes to how bad your asthma is and what treatments you need. Everyone with asthma, even if you think it’s not so bad, should have an action plan.
There are two types of medications used for asthma, preventers, generally taken every day. The second class is called relievers, a puffer that you take when you notice symptoms of asthma like wheeze or shortness of breath. In winter, it’s particularly important to take your preventer every day and if you’re using your reliever more frequently than usual, or at night you must see your doctor. Early action prevents things getting worse. It’s also important for people with asthma to carry a reliever inhaler wherever they go and ensure your technique is spot on to ensure the medicines actually make it down to the lungs where they’re needed.
Finally, as always, prevention reigns supreme. Stay warm and avoid cold air to stop asthma attacks. Since colds and flus are everywhere in winter, make sure you take steps to avoid catching them like hand washing, avoiding people who are unwell and talk to your GP about a flu vaccination.
If you need more information, see Asthma Australia and your GP. And of course, if you’re very worried about an asthma attack, don’t hesitate and call 000. Prevention and early treatment saves lives when it comes to asthma.