Be Winter Ready!

Tips for managing your asthma this season

The winter months can be a challenging time for Canadians with asthma. Cold air is a very common asthma trigger, and spending more time indoors means increased exposure to triggers like dust. We’ve gathered some tips to help you navigate seasonal triggers to manage your asthma and stay healthy this holiday season. 

Know Your Winter Triggers

It’s important to identify your winter season triggers so you know to avoid them and/or develop a plan for minimizing them. Some common asthma triggers are listed below.

  • Cold air
  • Viral infections 
  • Dust mites
  • Mould
  • Wood smoke
  • Scented products (candles & cleaning products)

11 Tips to be Winter Ready

1. Continue to take your controller medication as prescribed.

Continue taking your controller medication as prescribed by your health care provider to keep your asthma under control and decrease your chances of having flare-ups. Your controller medication works by treating the underlying inflammation in your airways and should be taken daily. You will know that the controller medication is working because you will, over time, have fewer and fewer symptoms.

2. Carry your reliever (rescue) inhaler everywhere.

It’s important to carry your reliever medication with you at all times. If it’s a particularly cold day and cold air is one of your triggers, consider taking your medication 10-15 minutes before exposure to cold air.

Your reliever medication provides fast but temporary relief of asthma symptoms and should be used in case of emergencies. Relievers are only a short-term solution to your breathing problem as they treat the acute symptoms but do not treat the underlying airway inflammation. Keep track of how often you are relying on your rescue inhaler — if you need to take it more than three times per week, your asthma is not well controlled and you should speak with your doctor.

You can take this short quiz to see if you may be relying too much on your reliever medication.

3. Follow your Asthma Action Plan.

An Asthma Action Plan allows you and your health care provider to create a personalized program for managing your asthma. You can use it as a strategy to identify when your asthma may be flaring up and how to manage your asthma when it gets out of control. An Asthma Action Plan helps you stay on top of your asthma at home. Download an Asthma Action Plan here. 

4. Dress for the weather.

Check the weather & temperature before going out and dress for the weather conditions. Stay warm, wear your hat, gloves, mittens and appropriate clothing for the temperature. Wear a scarf or face covering around your nose and mouth to help keep the air you breathe warm and moist. A mask will do the trick, too!

5. Protect yourself from viral infections.

Winter is cold and flu season, which can both act as asthma triggers and exacerbate symptoms. Be ready for the season by getting your recommended annual vaccination against influenza,  pneumococcal disease vaccination, and your COVID-19 vaccines. Also remember to wash your hands frequently. Read more about the importance of getting the flu shot for people with asthma.

6. Take note of pharmacy and healthcare centre holiday closures in your area.

Make sure you have enough medication to last through the holiday season. 

7. Schedule an Asthma Check-Up

You should have at least one annual asthma check in with your healthcare provider to discuss your asthma control, update your Asthma Action Plan, check your inhaler technique and make sure you’re on the right treatment plan. If you haven’t yet, consider contacting your healthcare provider to check in on your asthma management.

8. Prepare for Holiday Decorations

For some Canadians with asthma having a real holiday tree in the house can be a serious asthma trigger. If a real tree bothers your asthma, avoid one altogether and consider using an artificial tree.

Most trees are cut in October and then stored, which can cause mould and dust to build up. Try hosing the tree down with water and letting it dry, or using a leaf-blower to dislodge irritants before bringing the tree inside. Have someone else in your home do this if dust or mould trigger your asthma.

Also, wear gloves and a long sleeved shirt if you’re handling a real tree to keep sap away from your skin. You can also minimize exposure by keeping a real tree in a cooler, less-trafficked area of your home, like a screened front porch.

Artificial trees aren’t without triggers themselves. When unpacking your holiday decorations and setting up your tree you can reduce allergens by vacuuming your artificial holiday tree and dusting lights and ornaments.

Keep in mind that poinsettias, holly and mistletoe plants may contain dust mites or mould, so avoid them if you can.

9. Avoid using scented products like candles, scented cleaning supplies or laundry products.

Asthma attacks can be triggered by exposure to chemical fumes (such as laundry detergents, cleaning products, hairspray, scented cosmetics, perfume, paints, etc). Many people with asthma are affected by airborne chemicals and fragrances. 

10. Avoid open fires and wood burning stoves.

All smoke can be an asthma trigger, including wood smoke.

11. Have Questions? Reach out to Asthma Canada’s Asthma & Allergy HelpLine.

Whatever your inquiries are about asthma and respiratory allergies, our team of expert Certified Respiratory Educators (CREs) can provide you with personalized support and advice. Call 1-866-787-4050 or email info@asthma.ca to be connected with a CRE.

The winter months can be a tough time for people with asthma. If you are able, please also consider making a kind donation to support our mission. Your support is vital to ensuring that we can continue providing asthma education and support programs to help keep people with asthma healthy this holiday.