Winter is coming…

The winter season is now upon us, which means much of the US is faced with frosty temperatures, and heavy snowfall.

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But while some may welcome the colder weather and the wintry activities that come with it, for the 26 million people living with asthma, the change in season can wreak havoc on their respiratory health.1,2

The plummeting temperatures bring cold, dry air, which can irritate the airways of people with asthma, COPD or bronchitis.1 The combination of low temperature and low humidity is thought to affect the respiratory epithelium, inducing hyper-responsiveness and narrowing of the respiratory airways. This can lead to chronic inflammation, which in turn causes an increase in wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.3

And with the winter months comes cold and flu season, which can be hard to avoid for almost everyone, but carries extra risks for some. Those with respiratory conditions have to face more than just the symptoms of the virus itself: cold and flu can aggravate chronic respiratory disease symptoms through increased bronchial inflammation, putting people at a heightened risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.1,4

So what can people do to help prevent their symptoms from becoming worse? Aside from taking standard precautions to avoid contracting and spreading a cold or the flu, or in more serious cases pneumonia, people are recommended to keep an eye on the weather forecast, limit outdoor exercise, and invest in an air humidifier.1,5 Even a simple scarf wrapped loosely around the nose and mouth can help to warm the air before it enters the lungs, preventing any sudden changes in temperature which could trigger symptoms.6 People should also be encouraged to monitor air quality forecasts, as air pollution can be high in the winter, particularly in areas where wood burning is prevalent.1

It’s not only cold weather that’s taking a toll on people’s respiratory health. Discover more about the alarming knock-on effects of climate change in our article, ‘Is it really getting harder to breathe’.


  1. Cold Weather and Your Lungs. American Lung Association. Available at: Accessed: December 2019.
  2. Most Recent Asthma Data. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: Accessed: December 2019.
  3. Hyrkäs-Palmu H et al. Sci Rep 2018; 8(1): 10131.
  4. Peak in asthma deaths sparks winter survival guide. Asthma UK. Available at: Accessed: December 2019.
  5. What To Do Now if Your Asthma is Worse in Winter. Cleveland Clinic. Available at: Accessed: December 2019.
  6. Asthma UK. Available at: Accessed: December 2019.

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