How to Prevent Winter Allergy and Asthma Flare Ups

By Kisha DeSandies Lester
Asthma, Allergies flare ups: A family playing at the skating rink in winter.

It seems like no matter how you try to prevent it, you can’t escape cold and flu season. And this year, drastic changes in climate have increased allergy and asthma flare-ups. For parents, it’s hard to tell if your child is suffering from a simple cold or an allergy and asthma because of the similar symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, allergies and asthma flare-ups can be triggered by more than dust, smoke and mold. Colds and flu, sinus infections, breathing cold air and hyperventilation are also triggers.

We talked to adult and pediatric allergist and immunologist Dr. Purvi Parikh with the Allergy & Asthma Network to help understand what we should know about winter-time asthma and allergies and how can it be treated.

Why does winter and cold weather cause asthma and allergies to flare up?

Because the cold air (which is also dry) can irritate lungs and nasal passages and cause them to produce mucus and inflammation just like an asthma attack or allergies. Consider these three factors:

  • There are new allergens in the air ragweed pollen lingers in fall until the first frost and then eventually goes away. However, dust mites, mold and pets arguably affect people more in the winter when we spend more time indoors.
  • Speaking of being indoors, the forced air heating and radiators blow allergens into our rooms that have been accumulating in the vents all summer.
  • All the cold and flu viruses not only make allergies and asthma worse but also leave you feeling bad with similar symptoms. 

How do you know if your child’s symptoms are allergy/asthma or cold/flu related?

A lot of people don’t know that asthma can be triggered by a virus or an allergy. Usually, bouts of the cold/flu are limited to 5-7 days and can be accompanied by a high fever—over 100.4 degrees. Allergies and asthma can last weeks to months, usually without a fever. If you notice a seasonal pattern it may be allergies too. The best way to be sure is to be tested by a board-certified allergist.  

What are signs of asthma and asthma flare-ups for kids?

Coughing is the most common, so don’t ignore a dry cough. Other signs include wheezing in your child’s chest, tightness or pain in their chest and shortness of breath.

What should children with asthma or allergies do to prevent winter asthma flare-ups?

Vaccines are a must—the flu shot and for some kids, the pneumonia shot, is crucial to prevent getting ill. Talk to your child’s doctor about controller medications for your child to prevent seasonal illness. This can vary, based on symptoms.

Encourage your child to breathe through their nose, not your mouth. This will help in cold air be because the nose warms up the air for the lungs. Also, dress your child appropriately for outside play. Have them wear water repellent clothes for playing in the snow and a scarf or ski/face mask to help warm and humidify the air they breathe.

What are some preventive home remedies for children?

Steam inhalation, such as during a hot shower or from a boiling pot can help open your passages. Also, saline rinses can help tremendously. Drink extra fluids in the winter. Water and soups can help reduce the mucus in your child’s lungs and body.

However, keep in mind, these remedies provide temporary relief. If your child experiences severe symptoms and does not get better, contact your child’s physician.

Kisha DeSandies Lester is the Senior Editorial and Digital Manager at National PTA.

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