How to avoid asthma flare-ups in the fall
When the leaves start to change, asthma symptoms often return. An uptick in ragweed, mold counts, and seasonal colds can all trigger episodes and attacks. Here’s how to stay safe — and find relief.
Asthma attacks can strike at any time of the year. But the most frequent flare-ups seem to occur in the fall, says Stanley Fineman, M.D., an allergist in private practice in Metro Atlanta and past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). “We see more [asthma-related] hospital and emergency room visits in October and November than any other time of year,” he explains.
But with the right knowledge and tools, you can go about your daily routine during the autumn months free of flare-ups, Dr. Fineman says. Here are five ways to keep your asthma under control this fall.
1. Avoid your asthma triggers
Many people don’t realize that allergies can trigger an asthma attack. Pollen and mold are two of the biggest allergen offenders in the fall. But don’t just self-treat seasonal allergies — ask an allergist if you should also be screened for allergies, and what precautions to take if you have a dual diagnosis. Uncontrolled asthma can be deadly. You can find quick symptom tests for both conditions on the ACAAI website.
2. Protect yourself while outside
Fallen leaves are a breeding ground for mold and a haven for pollen. Raking stirs up both and releases them into the air. It may help to wear a mask when doing any kind of yard work. The ACAAI recommends a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)–approved N95 particulate filtering facepiece respirator. You can find a list of suppliers on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Other habits that can help: Removing shoes when you come back inside and showering before bed, as recommended by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
3. Change up your workout
Being physically active — especially outside — can do wonders for your health. However, exercising in the cold, dry air of autumn can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing, and a sore throat. Decreased endurance and an upset stomach during workouts may also be sneaky signs of asthma. Warm, humidified air is less likely to trigger asthma, so swimming is a great choice for people who have this condition, says Dr. Fineman. If you must be outside, wear a scarf or face mask that covers your nose and mouth; this will warm and moisten the air before it reaches your lungs.
4. Take steps to avoid getting sick
“Cold and flu viruses clearly trigger asthma,” says Dr. Fineman. Almost everyone should get an annual flu shot. But people with asthma should also get vaccinated against pneumonia, regardless of their age. Another reason to roll up those sleeves? To wash your hands. Do it often, with soap, for a minimum of 20 seconds. Use hand sanitizer when you can’t get to a sink.
5. Create a plan for work or school
If you are a parent, caregiver, grandparent, or generally around children with asthma, it’s important to understand how classrooms bring extra challenges for kids with asthma — including wayward cold germs. Chalk dust, dander from class pets, and pollen and mold wafting in through open windows can all pose problems. Ask an allergist to talk with the child about his or her triggers and how to avoid them. Also, learn what school staff should be aware of and whether you should provide the nurse with a quick-relief inhaler and/or epinephrine pen.
Adults with asthma should also ask about rescue medicines and let one or two co-workers know what to do if they have an episode on the job.