Asthma in Winter

To "Stay Well With Asthma This Winter" people with asthma should take the following precautions:

Keep taking regular medication as prescribed; this is especially important during the winter months when primary asthma triggers like airborne viruses and air pollution are prevalent.
If cold air triggers your asthma take two puffs of your reliever inhaler before going out.
Wrap up well and wear a scarf over nose and mouth.
Take extra care when exercising in cold weather. Warm up for 10-15 minutes. Take two puffs of your reliever inhaler before you start (please refer to our Reach Your Peak with asthma exercise information pack).
The general objective of the Winter Initiative is to ensure that you maintain optimal control of your asthma.

People with asthma often find that:

  • Chest infections,
  • Sudden changes in temperature,
  • Cold and windy conditions,

can trigger their symptoms and these can cause problems during the winter months.

Personal Asthma Action Plan

It is important to have a written personal asthma action plan. This is a plan which should be completed by your Doctor or Asthma Nurse in discussion with you and contains the information you need to control your asthma. Wintertime and coming into the winter months is a good opportunity to update and revise your personal asthma action plan.

This should include information about your:

  • Asthma medications
  • Signs of deterioration in your asthma and what you should do about it.
  • Emergency information and what to do if you have an asthma attack.

It is important to make sure you have your asthma reviewed at least once a year or sooner if your symptoms are getting worse.

Flu Vaccine

Flu is caused by the influenza virus which spreads from an infected person to the nose and throat of others. It can cause:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Muscle aches and pains

It can also lead to pneumonia which can be particularly dangerous to people who have other underlying respiratory conditions.

Having the flu is a major concern. People with asthma are at greater risk from flu than others. Asthma symptoms are often triggered by colds, flu and respiratory infections. It is impossible to avoid catching the common cold but having the flu vaccination can help to prevent the virus from taking hold. People with asthma are strongly recommended to have the flu vaccine.

Autumn is the best time to have vaccinations. As the influenza virus changes rapidly an annual vaccine is required. The flu vaccine has been widely used for many years and is both safe and effective with very few side effects.

In respect to children:
Children with mild to moderate asthma do not routinely require influenza vaccinations and there is little evidence to support its use. There may be some benefit for those children who have more severe disease, but again there is little or no evidence.

Pneumococcal Vaccine

Pneumococcal disease can lead to serious infections of the:

  • lungs - pneumonia
  • blood - septicemia
  • brain - meningitis

People with underlying respiratory disease such as asthma are more at risk of developing complications from the pneumococcal disease. This vaccine is usually given as one injection followed by a final (once only) injection five years later.

Proper hand washing and good dental hygiene are two of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs.

Obtaining the Vaccines

Both the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are available from your family doctor (GP).

  • The vaccine and consultation are free to those within the recommended groups who have a "Medical Card" or "Doctor Only" card. 
  • Family doctors charge a consultation fee for seasonal flu vaccine to those who do not have a "Medical Card" or "Doctor Only Card".

Pneumococcal vaccine

If you are over 65 or have a long term medical condition you should also ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine which protects against pneumonia, if you have not previously received it.

For more information about the Flu vaccine you can contact the HSE Information Line 1850 24 1850 or on the website www.hse.ie/flu

Nutritional Information

In the management of asthma, nutrition plays an important role. Good nutrition can:

  • help you to feel better
  • help to keep the immune system strong
  • help ward off colds and the flu, which are common asthma triggers

If you are overweight it can increase the workload of the lungs making breathing more difficult due to the decreased space in the chest cavity which inhibits the full expansion of the lungs.

An ideal body weight for your height can be maintained by:

  • Regular exercise.
  • Limiting your intake of fats and foods containing sugar content

However, being underweight can also affect your health as a decrease in lung function can leave you tired, weak and at a higher risk of developing infections.

The type of food you should be eating as part of a well balanced nutritional diet includes:

  • high protein foods example meat/chicken, fish, eggs and cheese.
  • plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • copious amounts of fluids, as dehydration can sometimes be linked to asthma attacks

Smoking Cessation

Stopping smoking has many health benefits for the individual and those around them.
Smoking cessation is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. There are great health benefits in giving up no matter how long you have been smoking.

Visit Quit.ie for more information/support

Exercise/Warmth

Regular exercise (daily if possible) is recommended for improving everyone’s health especially people with asthma.

  • It improves their lung capacity
  • It strengthens the breathing muscles
  • It keeps the airways elastic

Everyone, but especially children and teenagers, gain great benefits from sport because it makes them stronger physically and increases confidence. For the older population with asthma too, there are many benefits gained from keeping active. It is vital to keep asthma well controlled with daily use of preventer medication and warming up exercises prior to activity. This allows the airways to adjust gradually to airflow (for further information see our Reach Your Peak with Asthma exercise information pack).

Heating in the Home

People spend more time inside over-heated homes during the winter months. It is recommended to keep rooms well aired to prevent extremes of temperature. Keeping rooms well aired may reduce asthma triggers such as dust and moulds.

Unflued gas heating should be avoided as they produce nitrogen dioxide which can irritate the lining of the airways and impair people's defences against lung infections.

Asthma Attack Underestimated

Please do not underestimate your asthma this winter and make sure you are carrying an Asthma Attack Card.

Click here for what to do in an Asthma Attack

Respiratory viruses cause 60% of asthma attacks in adults and 80% in children.

The Asthma Attack Card provides the following information:

  • How to recognize an Asthma Attack and what steps to take.
  • You can indicate on the card what your most common signs of an attack are.
  • Your important contact details.
  • Your contact details

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