The Effect Climate Has on Asthma

Courtesy of Thommy Browne (Flickr CC0)

If anyone has asthma, they know how frustrating it can be to deal with their condition. You also likely know that there are a number of factors that can affect the severity of asthma symptoms, such as allergies and stress. There’s one more factor we haven’t talked about yet: climate change. The effects of climate change on asthma aren’t always easy to predict, but they’re definitely worth considering if you want to keep yourself healthy. This article will talk about how climate impacts asthma — and what steps one can take in order to manage their condition better.

One of the most common problems that are associated with warmer weather is increased humidity. As the air warms, it can hold more water vapor than colder air. This greater amount of moisture in the air leads to more humidity, which may increase someone’s chances of an asthma attack because it makes breathing more difficult and triggers allergies.

When someone breathes in cold air, their lungs narrow and make it harder to breathe. The more difficult it is to breathe, the more likely they are to have asthma symptoms.

Cold weather also dries out the airways and makes them feel scratchy and irritated. This can cause inflammation (swelling) of the airways that leads to coughing, wheezing, and chest tightness.

  • If a person has asthma, cold weather may make their asthma worse by:
  • Constricting the airways
  • Causing irritation of their sinuses or throat from dryness
  • Giving them a stuffy nose that makes breathing tough

Ozone. Ozone is a major asthma trigger, particularly in the spring and summer when it’s at its worst. It’s formed when pollutants from cars and power plants react to sunlight. When this happens, it results in a harmful gas that can irritate the lungs, making them more vulnerable to other triggers like pollen or dust mites.

Courtesy of NIAID (Flicker CC0)

Smoke from wildfires. Wildfire smoke is becoming an increasingly common trigger for asthma flare-ups as the climate warms up and fires become more frequent and intense due to climate change — especially during the summer months when air quality tends to be worse than it is during other times of the year.

If a person has asthma, they know how much thunderstorms can affect their day-to-day life. If people don’t have asthma and are reading this article, please take a minute to Google “severe weather” (the results aren’t pretty). As the climate changes and brings more severe weather with it, here’s what to expect in terms of asthma flare-ups:

Thunderstorms are bad news for people with asthma. They can be especially dangerous if they cause tornadoes or hurricanes. The wind caused by these storms can carry pollens into the air where they could potentially trigger an attack. The high winds also stir up dust particles that may get inhaled and cause irritation in those who suffer from allergies to dust mites or mold spores. Since many people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) already have trouble breathing when their airways are congested, even minor amounts of mucus buildup could lead to a COPD flare-up if left untreated long enough without proper medication like Albuterol inhalers or Ventolin nebulizers.

If a person lives in a region prone to mold, it’s even more important to be vigilant about keeping the house clean and dry. Mold spores can be carried in the wind, so if they find their way indoors, they’ll set up shop in your basement or crawlspace. They thrive under damp conditions — so once they’re there and growing, it’s hard to get them out of the home without professional help.

The best way to prevent mold from overtaking a home is by keeping things dry at all times: fix leaky pipes; turn off the faucet when not using water; run fans when cooking or doing laundry; use dehumidifiers in humid rooms like basements or bathrooms (the CDC recommends using one when relative humidity reaches 60%).

People should be aware of the climate where they live, work, or travel.

Climate affects asthma, and there are many ways it can do so:

Pollen season. In many parts of the country, pollen is released in springtime. This can cause wheezing and other asthmatic symptoms. Some people may experience allergy symptoms from being outside when pollen counts are high; others have no reaction at all.

Temperature fluctuations in your home or workplace during winter can make asthma worse for some people because cold air tends to dry out mucous membranes in the nose and throat (affecting cilia), which leads to inflammation — one symptom of asthma.

The bottom line is that climate affects asthma, and people should be aware of it. If anyone has asthma, make sure to pay attention to the weather and any changes in humidity or precipitation. Also, consider whether there has been a sudden increase in pollen levels or air pollution. Finally, remember that colds and flu can cause symptoms to flare up if the immune system isn’t functioning properly.

Written by Sheena Robertson


Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Climate and Health
Allergy& Asthma Network: Cold Air and Asthma = Winter Asthma
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: 3 Ways Humidity Affects Asthma

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Thommy Browne‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of NIAID’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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