How to Weather Winter Asthma

While some people experience the bulk of their asthma symptoms in the spring and summer, many experience serious discomfort during the winter months.

There are several reasons why asthma can get worse in winter, explains Kevin McGrath, MD, Fellow and Spokesperson for the ACAAI. The cold outdoor air can be a big trigger. Allergens such as dust, mold, pollen, and animal dander can get trapped and released in heating systems.

In addition, heat can dry out air, according to Carolyn Dean, MD, NDD, author and member of the Medical Advisory Board of the non-profit Nutritional Magnesium Association. Dean points out that heat can dry out and irritate your bronchial tract, making you more prone to seasonal asthma symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.

Winter Asthma and Illness

In addition, winter marks the season of cold and flu. These illnesses can inflame airways and make them more prone to seasonal asthma symptoms. Since the effects of a cold can last for two weeks after the illness resolves, it's common to experience more winter asthma flare-ups even after you feel better.

Magnesium Deficiency

There's growing attention that not having enough magnesium in the body can contribute to allergies and asthma. Dean says that magnesium deficiency can increase histamine production and bronchial spasms.

Winter Asthma Management

Here are McGrath and Dean's tips to help you improve asthma this season:

  • Use your asthma medications as directed and adjust your dosage if you become ill.
  • To prevent irritation on your sensitive airways, warm up the air you breathe in by covering up your nose and mouth with a scarf or facemask when you go outside.
  • Allergy-proof your home. Pay particular attention to your bedroom. Vacuum often, wash bedding in hot water, and use plastic allergy covers on your mattress and pillows. Keep pets out of this area so you won't be exposed to their allergens while you sleep.
  • Avoid smoke-filled environments, burning incense, cigarettes, second-hand smoke, and wood-burning fires.
  • If you have a cold or persistent cough that won't resolve on its own, see your doctor.
  • Drink lots of liquids and run a humidifier or a hot shower to keep mucus from hardening and blocking your airways.
  • Incorporate magnesium supplements into your diet to help reduce allergies and improve lung function.
  • Try stress management practices such as yoga, swimming, and tai chi to relax your muscles and encourage deep breathing.

Other Asthma Management Tips

Have an asthma management plan in place. Experts suggest that it should include steps to monitor your condition on a regular basis, ways to help you recognize warning signs, and how to head off an attack. Also, talk to your doctor about getting allergy injections if your symptoms persist despite efforts to get them under control.

Dr. Dean and Dr. McGrath reviewed this article.




American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). "Allergy Facts." N.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2012.

Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, Medical Advisory Board Member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association. Email interview. 15 Oct. 2012.

Kazaks, A.G. et al. "Effect of oral magnesium supplementation on measures of airway resistance and subjective assessment of asthma control and quality of life in men and women with mild to moderate asthma: a randomized placebo controlled trial." Journal of Asthma 47 (1) (February 2010): 83-92. Web. 25 Oct. 2012.

Kevin McGrath, MD, Fellow and Spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Phone interview. 16 Oct. 2012. "Blog: So Why Do So Many Winter Olympians Have Asthma?" 13 Jan. 2010. Web. 3 Oct. 2012.