Kids, Asthma and Cold Weather

Marcella Aquino, MD

Asthma can be tough for kids to handle even on a good day, but managing the chronic condition during the winter months can pose a particular challenge. Cold air, for one, can result in shortness of breath caused by a tightening of the airways, a common asthma symptom. Other symptoms include coughing, wheezing and chest tightness, which can be brought on by:

  • physical activity
  • stress and anxiety
  • respiratory illnesses
  • irritants such as cigarette smoke, fragrances and air fresheners
  • allergens like dust mites, cockroaches, mice and animal dander or pollen.

During childhood, more boys than girls tend to develop asthma, but that reverses as they grow older. Come the teen years, symptoms may lessen, but they typically do return.

Asthma patients are treated with various medications such as bronchodilators (rescue medications like albuterol) and maintenance medications (inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, inhaled anticholinergics, biologicals). There’s currently no cure.

How can a parent help his or her child manage asthma, especially during the colder months?

Cover up, clean up, and be prepared

  • Cover your child’s nose and mouth when in the cold. This helps to humidify and warm the air.
  • Wash hands carefully with soap and water. Hand sanitizers may help, but may cause drying.
  • Be sure your child gets a flu vaccine.
  • Ensure your child’s medications are current and always on hand.
  • “Pre-medicate” your child with two rescue inhaler puffs 20 to 30 minutes before exercise.
  • Maintain a physician-approved asthma action plan, including annual asthma testing.

Don’t forget about the indoors

  • Clean and/or replace your heating unit air filters.
  • Eliminate wet, damp areas of your home to prevent mold growth.
  • Use pest control to rid your home of cockroaches or rodents.

Avoid or limit your child’s exposure to:

  • Dust mites: Wash linens in hot water, remove carpets, limit stuffed animals, and use dust mite covers for mattress, pillow and box spring.
  • Pets: It’s best to not own a pet that causes allergies. But if you do, keep pets out of the bedroom and keep the bedroom door closed. Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter in rooms shared with an animal. Bathe your pets regularly to temporarily decrease allergens.
  • Irritants: Don’t smoke around kids, and limit their exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Indoor air pollution: Vent gas-cooking areas. Wood-burning fireplaces may also contribute to symptoms.

New medications continue to be made available for both adult and child asthma sufferers, and your physician can discuss those options with you. For more information on asthma and the services we offer, please visit our website.

Hasbro Children's Hospital also leads a variety of community-wide asthma education, management, support and advocacy projects designed to improve the health and quality of life of children with asthma. Learn more about our community asthma programs.

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