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From winter freeze to summer heatwave, get top tips to stay well with your asthma if weather triggers your symptoms

Have you noticed that a sudden change in weather can trigger your asthma symptoms? If so you're not the only one. Cold weather, thunderstorms, hot weather, or sudden changes in temperature all trigger asthma symptoms for some people.

Cold weather

Hot weather

Changes in weather

Thunderstorms

Cold weather

Whether it’s icy cold, there’s snow on the ground, or it’s cold, damp and foggy, when the temperature drops you may notice more asthma symptoms.

 This could be because:

  • when cold weather gets into your airways it can trigger them to go into spasm, causing asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.
  • on still, cold days air pollution can sometimes be worse
  • during the winter more colds and flu viruses are going around

The good news is, your asthma is less likely to be triggered by cold weather if it is well controlled.

Top tips if cold weather sets off your asthma

  • Keep taking your regular preventer inhaler so you’re less likely to get symptoms. And carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times so you’re ready if symptoms do come on.
  • Use a written asthma action plan so you know what to do if cold weather sets off your asthma symptoms
  • Go for regular asthma reviews to check you’re on the right meds for you, and you’re taking your inhalers in the best way to get the benefits during the winter months.
  • If you’re using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week, or you’ve noticed the cold’s made your symptoms worse, book an extra catch up with your doctor or asthma nurse.  
  • Wear a scarf loosely over your nose and mouth before you go out. This stops your airways getting a shock of cold air when you go from a warm house out into the cold. Loads of people are using a scarf to warm the air up before it hits their lungs.  
  • Breathing in through your nose instead of your mouth also warms the air as you breathe it in.

3 top tips: asthma nurse specialist Debby Waddell helps you look after your child’s asthma when it’s cold out:

  1. Give your child a scarf to wear loosely over their nose and mouth. It warms up the air they’re breathing in so they’re less likely to get asthma symptoms if they’re playing out or doing PE.
  2. Talk to teachers about your child’s asthma triggers, including cold weather. And make sure the school has a spare reliever and spacer for your child to use if their asthma symptoms come on.
  3.  Most important of all, stick to your child’s preventer routine, and follow their written asthma action plan, so you’re staying on top of their asthma during the winter months. And don’t forget to carry their reliever inhaler with you all the time, so you can act quickly if cold weather triggers their asthma.

Hot weather

Mostly we think of asthma symptoms being worse in the winter. But hot summer weather can trigger asthma symptoms for some people too.

The causes are not clear but two possible reasons are:

  • Breathing in hot air can cause the airways to narrow, leading to coughing and shortness of breath.
  • When it’s hot in summer, there are often higher levels of pollutants and pollens in the air. 

Top tips if hot weather sets off your asthma

  • Keep taking your regular preventer inhaler so you’re less likely to get symptoms. And carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times so you’re ready if symptoms do come on.
  • Use a written asthma action plan so you know what to do if hot weather triggers symptoms
  • Go for regular asthma reviews to check you’re on the right meds for you, and you’re taking your inhalers in the best way to get the benefits through the summer months
  • If you’re using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week, or you’ve noticed the hot weather’s made your symptoms worse, book an extra catch up with your doctor or asthma nurse.
  • Keep inhalers in a cool place out of direct sunlight so they continue to work well. Try keeping your reliever in a cool bag when you’re out and about on a hot day.
  • Keep an eye on pollen forecasts and find out more about why staying on top of your hay fever symptoms with antihistamines is good for your asthma too.  
  • Plan any outdoor activities for earlier in the day when the air quality tends to be better, including exercise.

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms can be an asthma trigger. Two possible reasons for this are: 

  • The air before a storm can feel very humid and close. Some people tell us this gives them a tight chest and a cough, and that they find it harder to breathe.
  • During pollen season, the windy conditions during a thunderstorm blow lots of pollen high into the air. The moisture higher up in the air breaks the pollen into much smaller pieces. As these smaller pieces of pollen particles then settle back down, they can be breathed in, irritating the smaller airways of the lungs.

Top tips if thunderstorms set off your asthma

  • Keep taking your regular preventer inhaler so you’re less likely to get symptoms. And carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times so you’re ready if symptoms do come on.
  • Use a written asthma action plan so you know what to do if a thunderstorm is forecast or triggers symptoms
  • Go for regular asthma reviews to check you’re on the right medicines for you, and you’re taking your inhalers in the best way to get the benefits.
  • If you’re using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week, or you’ve noticed pollen or thunderstorms make your symptoms worse, book an extra catch up with your doctor or asthma nurse. 
  • If you know thunderstorms affect you, try staying indoors before, during and after the storm, and keep the windows closed to stop released pollen getting indoors.
  • Take your usual hay fever treatments such as a nasal spray and/or antihistamines during your pollen season

Changes in weather

 “One of my main triggers is a change in the weather, whether this is an increase or decrease in temperature.  When this happens my chest becomes tight, I begin to cough and have to use my reliever inhaler.” Monica, age 66

Top tips to deal with symptoms when the weather changes

“Our weather in the UK is unpredictable and changes happen suddenly sometimes. So it’s important to stick to a good routine of taking your preventer inhaler every day as prescribed,”  says Dr Andy Whittamore. ‘That way you’re on top of your asthma whatever the UK weather throws at you.”

  • Keep taking your regular preventer inhaler so you’re less likely to get symptoms. And carry your reliever inhaler with you at all times so you’re ready if symptoms do come on.
  • Use a written asthma action plan so you know what to do if changes in the weather trigger asthma symptoms
  • Go for regular asthma reviews to check you’re on the right medicines for you, and you’re taking your inhalers in the best way to get the benefits, whatever the weather.
  • If you’re using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week, or you’ve noticed weather changes making your symptoms worse, book an extra catch up with your doctor or asthma nurse. 
  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast so you’re prepared for changes coming up.
  • Make sure you know the signs that your asthma is getting worse and what you need to do if it is.
  • Carry a small scarf around with you to go over your nose and mouth so you’re prepared if the weather turns windy or cold 

Understanding your personal weather triggers

“Both my mum and me have asthma, and the weather affects us in completely different ways. My mum’s asthma is not good when it’s cold and windy; mine is triggered when it’s warm and air quality is less good.” Charlotte, Asthma UK volunteer.

“The key thing is getting to know what your weather triggers are,” says Dr Andy. “Talk to your doctor so you can add them to your asthma action plan. And try keeping a symptom diary too - you may notice you’re more likely to react to the weather when there’s other things going on too, like hay fever, colds and viruses, or bad pollution.”

‘If you know weather is a trigger, especially changing weather, then have your reliever inhaler with you at all times and stick to your routine of taking your preventer inhaler to cut your risk of symptoms.”

Last updated November 2019

Next review due November 2022

 

Asthma action plans keep all your personal triggers and medicines tips in one place. Download one now to fill in with your doctor or nurse.