Asthma in the cold

Cold weather is a major trigger for asthma symptoms. Here are five tips for keeping asthma at bay as the winter temperatures plummet.

Cold weather can have a serious impact on the 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK. According to Asthma UK, three quarters of people with asthma say that cold air is a trigger for their symptoms and 90% reckon that having a cold or flu makes their asthma considerably worse.

Cher Piddock, a nurse for Asthma UK, says: "Hospital admissions for asthma traditionally peak during periods of particularly cold weather. This can be due to breathing cold air into the lungs, which can in turn trigger asthma, as well as picking up colds and flu.

"People whose asthma is well-controlled are more likely to be able to withstand the risks of winter months. You can help keep your asthma under control by making sure you have a regular asthma review with your doctor or asthma nurse and that you have a personal asthma action plan."

Five tips for preventing cold weather asthma symptoms

Asthma UK has this advice on how to control your asthma symptoms during the cold weather:

  1. Keep taking your regular preventer medicines as prescribed by your doctor.
  2. If you know that cold air triggers your asthma, take one or two puffs of your reliever inhaler before going outside.
  3. Keep your blue reliever inhaler with you at all times.
  4. Wrap up well and wear a scarf over your nose and mouth – this will help to warm up the air before you breathe it in. 
  5. Take extra care when exercising in cold weather. Warm up for 10-15 minutes and take one or two puffs of your reliever inhaler before you start.

Asthma attacks in winter

With the onset of very cold weather, it’s a good idea to make sure you and your friends and family know what to do if you have an asthma attack.

The key signs are:

  • coughing more than usual
  • getting short of breath
  • wheezing
  • feeling a tightness in your chest
  • having difficulty speaking in full sentences

Read more about what to do in an asthma attack.

You can find more information on this website about managing asthma. If you have queries about any aspect of asthma, you can also call the Asthma UK free telephone helpline staffed by asthma nurse specialists, on 0800 121 6244.

Page last reviewed: 12/12/2013

Next review due: 12/12/2015

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

CleanAir said on 04 December 2010

A good reminder on the hazards of cold air. I’d like to add that in this cold weather, people will be spending much more time indoors and will be exposed to indoor air pollution, some elements of which (house dust mite, volatile organic compounds, particulate matter) may trigger or exacerbate asthma. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has just published an interesting paper on indoor air quality in the UK, which notes that far less attention has been paid to indoor air pollution than to outdoor air pollution, even though the former may have a significant impact on respiratory health. Homes and offices today tend to be very well insulated, which is great for energy efficiency but not so good when it comes to ventilation. Leaving windows very slightly open may help improve ventilation at home or in the office although obviously that’s tricky if you are letting in really cold air which may be an asthma trigger. At the very least, open the windows in the bathroom and kitchen after bathing or cooking to let moisture escape (because house dust mite and mould love damp conditions).

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