By Claire Sykes
If you’re one of the nearly 25 million Americans that have asthma, then you know how winter’s cold air can ramp up your symptoms. No one is sure what causes this chronic inflammatory disorder of the bronchial tubes, but if you’re an asthma sufferer, then you know all too well what an attack feels like. The onset of coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing can happen unexpectedly, with symptoms ranging from rare-to-frequent and mild-to-severe.
So, if you have asthma, you might be thinking it’s better to stay out of the cold. But, not so fast. Fortunately, there are ways to help keep your asthma under control in the cold weather.
What happens to asthma during the cold?
People with asthma have more mucus-producing cells in the lining of the airway and more smooth muscle surrounding the bronchial tubes. During an attack, the airway’s muscles spasm and tighten up, causing the body to release white blood cells to fight what the body “thinks” is a threat. But since no infection is present, the cells have nothing to fight off, leaving them in limbo. This irritates and stiffens the airway tissues, creating inflammation and swelling of the mucosal membrane lining. This causes mucus to collect, triggering the asthma sufferer to try coughing it out of his or her system. This episode may lead to wheezing, accompanied by a sudden loss of breath.
Nasal stuffiness is another casualty of breathing cold air, since the nose produces an increased amount of mucus that is thicker in colder weather compared to other times of the year. Colder air doesn’t warm up right away when it reaches the lungs, so the lungs react by releasing histamine, an inflammatory substance that causes wheezing. Frosty air also thickens the “mucus blanket” that coats and protects the lungs, making it harder to rid the body of inhaled particles. And a less-effective mucus blanket invites infection. Asthma tends to exaggerate the entire process.
How to stay in control
Asthma can be life threatening, so it’s vital to get a definitive diagnosis from a healthcare provider who specializes in this condition. Upon confirmed diagnosis, your asthma will be classified as either “mild,” “moderate” or “severe.” Depending on how well you maintain your condition, the practitioner will decide whether it’s controlled or not.
The cornerstone of treatment is avoiding whatever triggers an attack, starting with what you eat. Most people with asthma have food allergies or sensitivities, which make it worse. The most common allergies are dairy, wheat and gluten, eggs, soy, and corn. Foods that irritate the body cause inflammation in weak areas. If you are an asthma patient, the lungs are the weak area of the body. Below are a few diet suggestions to maintain healthy lungs:
- A dairy- and gluten-free diet and drink plenty of water to keep the lungs hydrated.
- Vegetarian and whole-food diet supports the immune system, which healthy lungs depend on.
- Protein also plays a key dietary role as it decreases inflammation. You can easily add extra protein to your diet by simply including legumes, fish and small amounts of meat.
- Avoid processed foods (especially refined flours and sugars) that can contribute to the production of inflammatory substances.
Easing stress can also help keep asthma under control, and many people have found practices such as massage, acupuncture, yoga, deep breathing and meditation to be helpful.
Stay comfortable inside
Other suggestions to keep your asthma under control include keeping the furnace filter clean, using a room humidifier and air purifier, and washing your hands frequently to help ward off germs.
Take asthma fighting supplements
Taking asthma-fighting supplements are a great way to help combat your symptoms such as inflammation,
- Omega-3 fatty acids (2,000 mg twice a day), Vitamin D (2,000 IU daily), and Vitamin A (5,000 IU daily) are all anti-inflammatories.
- Vitamin C (2,000 mg twice a day) acts as an antioxidant for healthy lung tissue and an antihistamine to reduce allergies.
- Magnesium (400 mg twice a day) is known to relax the bronchial-tube muscles.
- Probiotics (the “friendly” bacteria that live in the intestines), create a healthier gut.
- Vitamin B-12 is also on the list to boost the immune system. Just be sure to see your healthcare provider to determine the amount and to generally supervise your supplementation program, especially if you take prescription medication.
Don’t let the winter cold stop you from maintaining your exercise routine. When going out into wintry conditions, be sure to cover your mouth and nose with a scarf, and breathe through it to warm and moisten the air. On bitterly cold days, choose the gym or an indoor pool instead. If you find that your asthma is keeping you from sledding or skiing – you don’t have it under control. Wherever you exercise, warm up and cool down properly, and know your limits, so as not to trigger an attack.
Don’t let your asthma keep you grounded this winter. Avoiding triggers and making healthy lifestyle choices can free you from asthma attacks and help you breathe a whole lot easier in the cold weather. And if you want the best supplementation possible to ease your asthma symptoms, browse all of our products to see what works best for you.