Can Weather Affect Asthma?

woman sitting outsideFor some people with asthma, a change in weather conditions can be trigger symptoms. While environmental allergens and pollutants such as animal dander, smoke, and pollen are common factors that can aggravate asthma, weather can also play a role. Cold air, humidity, and even thunderstorms are known asthma triggers.

“In people with asthma, the airways become hyper-reactive to allergens such as pollen and irritants such as perfumes,” says Stanley Fineman, MD, MBA, an allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic.

Humidity, temperature changes, and other weather conditions can also affect asthma. “Temperature changes in the airways can cause inflammation in the airways as well,” says Dr. Fineman. “For most people, this is not a problem. The nose controls humidity without a problem. But for people with allergies and asthma, who may breathe air through the mouth more often, irritants, pollutants, and pollen are more of a factor. Because the airways are inflamed in people with asthma, the more severe the asthma is, the more likely they are to be affected by the weather.”

Your Asthma Weather Report

Common weather triggers that can aggravate asthma symptoms include:

  • Cold air. Frigid temperatures can be an asthma trigger. “Cold air seems to predispose people with asthma to have more symptoms,” says Fineman. “Cold air can cause constriction of airways,” says Todd Rambasek, MD, an adult and pediatric allergist at ENT and Allergy Health Services in Cleveland, Ohio. For people with asthma, this can be a dangerous problem.
  • Wind and rain. Rainfall can increase and stir up mold spores, and wind can blow around pollen and mold.
  • Heat. In the summer months, increased ozone from smog, exhaust fumes, and pollutants tend to be higher and can trigger asthma symptoms.
  • Lightning. Thunderstorms, which can generate ozone, are now thought of as an asthma trigger.
  • Air pressure fluctuations. “Barometric pressure triggers sinus episodes, and sinusitis is a common trigger for asthma symptoms,” says Dr. Rambasek.

Managing Weather-Related Triggers

Managing the symptoms of weather-related asthma is similar to managing asthma that is triggered by any cause, like pet dander. Whether the trigger is heat, pollen, or a fierce rainstorm, the best way to avoid climate-connected asthma is to first identify what your triggers are. “Just as you would with other triggers of asthma, avoid these triggers and control your exposure,” says Fineman.

Specific weather triggers will vary from individual to individual. “If lightning storms tend to set off your asthma attacks, then stay inside,” says Rambasek. “If cold air is your trigger, use albuterol before going out in the cold and wear a face mask or scarf over your face.” If your asthma tends to worsen in hot summer months, use an air conditioner and try to stay in a controlled environment.

To stay on top of weather changes, monitor the weather forecasts — consider signing up for email and text updates from online services. Beyond temperature changes, watch the forecast for rain, humidity, air pressure changes, and ozone reports.

Another effective way to control weather-triggered asthma is by taking your prescribed asthma medications. “Regular use of controller meds is an important part of managing asthma,” says Rambasek.

While it’s not possible to control the weather, you can take steps to limit asthma attacks. Identify your weather triggers and then do what you can to protect yourself from the elements.

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