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How Cold Weather Affects Your Asthma And Your Skin

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This issue of News For A Healthier You explains how cold weather affects your asthma and your skin and gives tips for coping.
  1. How Cold Weather Affects Your Asthma
  2. How Cold Weather Affects Your Skin
How Cold Weather Affects Your Asthma

What Is Asthma?
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), "Asthma is a chronic (long-term) lung disease that inflames and narrows the airways. Asthma causes recurring periods of wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, shortness of breath, and coughing."

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that "asthma is a disease that affects your lungs. It is one of the most common long-term diseases of children, but adults have asthma, too. Asthma causes repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and nighttime or early morning coughing. If you have asthma, you have it all the time, but you will have asthma attacks only when something bothers your lungs."

What Is An Asthma Trigger?
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) says that "people with asthma have inflamed airways which are super-sensitive to things which do not bother other people and these things are called triggers". Basically, anything a person is exposed to that results in asthma symptoms is an asthma trigger. Common triggers include allergens, outdoor air pollutants, chemical fumes, tobacco smoke, exercise, and cold air.

How Can Cold Air Be An Asthma Trigger?
To answer that, we need to take a look at how breathing works. Ideally, air enters the body through the nose which is designed to filter, humidify, and warm the air before it moves into the airways - the trachea (or windpipe) that branches into bronchi which further branch into bronchioles. The airways are lined with mucus that must maintain a perfect level of stickiness and fluidity. The tiny hairs called cilia constantly brush irritants and pollutants trapped in the mucus to the back of the throat where it is swallowed and taken care of in the stomach.

If the mucus balance of stickiness and fluidity is disturbed by allergens and irritants, the immune system is alerted to send more blood cells causing inflammation and swelling. More mucus is produced in an effort to flush out the intruders causing congestion. When you breathe cold winter air, more moisture than usual is pulled from your nose causing thickened mucus that is less effective at sweeping out germs and making you more susceptible to infections. Breathing cold air through your mouth and bypassing the nose due to congestion or exercise has the following effects according to Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA):
  • The cold air makes your airways tighten up and constrict, so breathing becomes more difficult.
  • The dryness thickens mucus and clogs the cilia, so your lungs are less able to process oxygen and move it into your bloodstream.
Since your nose is your body's natural means to filter, humidify, and warm the air you breathe, it is very important in keeping your airways and lungs healthy. Taking good care of your nose can reduce allergy and asthma symptoms by reducing exposure to allergens, irritants, and dry or cold air. Here are some tips to keep cold, dry winter air from causing you to have allergy or asthma symptoms:
  1. Drink plenty of water to keep mucus thin and fluid like it should be so it can be effective at carrying allergens and other asthma triggers out of your body.
  2. Cover your mouth and nose to help warm the air you breathe. A fleece mask designed for this purpose can really help when you have to be outdoors or you are participating in winter sports.
  3. Keep nasal and sinus passages moist so the cilia can work effectively to sweep out irritants. Using nasal washes and nasal sprays can be beneficial.
If you have asthma but are not sure what your asthma triggers are, keeping a journal to see what precedes your symptoms can help you identify your triggers. Then work with your doctor to develop a plan of action.

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How Cold Weather Affects Your Skin
What Causes Dry Skin In Winter?
Dry skin that is often itchy and cracked is common in winter. The reason this happens in winter is that cold air holds less moisture naturally. Then we make it worse by heating the cold air so it is even drier indoors.

Normal, healthy skin is coated in a thin layer of natural lipids, or fatty substances. They keep in moisture, leaving the skin soft and supple. The loss of this natural oil is what leads to dry skin. The loss can be caused by the dry air of winter or by exposure to the drying effects of sun or by excessive use of water on the skin.

What Can Be Done To Keep Skin Moisturized?
Although there is nothing that can be done about the dryness of air in cold weather, there are some steps you can take to hold in natural oil and keep skin moisturized:

  • Apply moisturizer frequently and choose a moisturizer that is free of added fragrances and dyes. Heated indoor air is even drier than cold outdoor air, so turn the thermostat down a little or use a humidifier to restore some moisture to your environment. (Note: be careful to stay under 50% to control dust mites and mold - a humidity gauge can help you monitor relative humidity).

  • Before going outdoors, generously apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to protect skin. Also cover as much skin as possible with hats, scarves, and gloves to protect skin from the sun, cold air, and wind. Dress in layers so you can put on and take off to keep at a comfortable temperature.

  • Hands usually experience dry skin more than the rest of the body. The skin on the hands is thinner, has less oil glands, is more exposed, and suffers more frequent washings. To counteract this, use a thin cotton gloves between the wool and your skin can keep the wool from irritating your skin.

  • Excessive bathing (more than twice a day) can cause dry, itchy skin all over - especially if you take long baths in hot water. Instead take lukewarm, quick showers - if they are lukewarm, making them short probably won't be a problem. Less natural oil is lost this way. Again, pat dry instead of rubbing and apply moisturizer while the skin is still damp. Harsh soaps such as deodorant soaps should be replaced with mild soaps that are free of fragrances and dyes. Arms and legs don't need soap every day if you are sitting at a desk most of the time.

  • Detergent residues in clothing can be irritating to dry skin. Use a liquid detergent since it generally rinses out better than powder detergents. Pick one that has no added fragrances or dyes that can also be irritating.

Margie Bullock, Newsletter Editor

Closing Thoughts
Cold air can be a formidable enemy to those who suffer from asthma or with skin that is dry, cracked, itchy, and painful. I hope you or a friend finds the information in this newsletter helpful in dealing with cold weather. You can share your thoughts about our products and our service by posting on our Facebook Page.

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