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Posted at: Feb 2, 2019, 12:50 AM; last updated: Feb 2, 2019, 12:50 AM (IST)

How to breathe easy in winter

Certain allergies are quite common in this weather

Dr Puneet Khanna

Winters are known to cause increase in respiratory symptoms like cough, cold and congestion in young and elderly due to infection and allergies. There are certain allergens, as well as irritants, that are more likely to present problems during the winter months when colder weather forces you to be inside home for more hours each day. The common winter allergies and asthma symptoms can include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal blockage/stuffiness
  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, watery, burning eyes
  • Itchy mouth and/or throat
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Tight feeling in the chest
Some common indoor allergens that are especially active in the winter are:

  • Dust mites
  • Animal dander
  • Indoor moulds
  • Insect and mouse allergens
In addition, there may be some triggers that are known as irritants that are more likely to be encountered in the winter. Irritants don’t produce the allergic reaction that allergens do, but these can further irritate already inflamed airways in people with allergic asthma. The most common irritants during the winter months are:

  • Cold outdoor air
  • Smoke from wood fires in fireplaces and stoves
  • Secondhand smoke from tobacco smoking
Influencing factors that causes increased symptoms include more wood fires and smoke that irritate airways. In certain areas, particularly plains near the hilly regions, temperature variations can cause smoke-related pollution that causes a blanket of haze over the lower atmosphere for days at a time. In more temperate climates, winter may bring much rainy damp weather, which can mean higher levels of mould spores.

Those susceptible to allergies or already suffering should have an action plan for when the weather turns cold.

  • Identify winter triggers of asthma symptoms.
  • Use a rescue inhaler available.
  • Take your medications regularly.
  • Get a flu vaccination (Only after checking with a doctor) 

Preventive measures

When the weather is especially dry and cold or wet and rainy, stay indoors as much as you can. If you must go outdoors in cold weather, wear a neck scarf that you can pull up over your mouth to warm the air you breathe in.

Maintain a clean environment. Vacuum and dust the house at least weekly to keep dust mites and other allergens from settling.

Avoid having wood fires in the home if you are sensitive to smoke. If you don’t want to stop using your fireplace or woodstove, then at least make sure it’s well-maintained and vented. 

Other strategies include avoiding mould, dust mites, pet dander and second-hand smoke.

There are also a number of medications that can be used to treat winter allergies and asthma, including oral antihistamines, eye drops and saline nasal rinse/irrigation. Nasal decongestant and steroid sprays should be used sparingly under strict medical supervision.

These basic precautions can help you breathe easy this winter season.

—The writer is head, Department of Interventional Pulmonology, Respiratory & Sleep Medicine, Aakash HealthCare Super-specialty Hospital, New Delhi

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