SATURDAY, Feb. 11, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Cold winter air can exacerbate asthma symptoms but there are some simple methods to help prevent asthma attacks, one expert says.
"The breathing of colder air itself can actually cause constriction of the airway, leading to shortness of breath and wheezing typical of an asthma attack," Dr. Monica Kraft, director of the Duke University Asthma, Allergy and Airway Center, said in a prepared statement.
Winter sports enthusiasts affected by asthma can protect themselves by wearing a ski mask or scarf around the mouth and nose, she said, but keep these coverings loose enough so they don't impair breathing. Taking a preventative dose of a bronchodilating inhaler before going out in the cold can also help reduce the risk of asthma symptoms.
The negative effects of breathing cold air can be more pronounced during exertion, Kraft said. In fact, many children exhibit their first signs of asthma while playing sports in cold weather.
"We have found that kids playing such sports as soccer, hockey or football in the cold can suffer from the symptoms of asthma that are noticed for the first time. For this reason it is important for not only parents, but coaches and teachers, to be sensitive to the symptoms," Kraft said.
Staying indoors during cold weather may not be much help, depending on the underlying causes of a person's asthma.
"If dust mites or dander are triggers, remaining inside in a hermetically sealed house can increase the likelihood of an attack. Also, people tend to have more colds and upper respiratory infections in the winter, so being around such people in close quarters can increase the chances of infection," Kraft said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about asthma control.