Man using an inhaler for asthma symptoms in winter

Why asthma gets worse in the wintertime

Most asthma sufferers know exactly what their triggers are — environmental allergies, illness, or changes in temperature. And many report their symptoms ramp up during the winter months.

But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer all season long. Read about simple steps you can take to keep your symptoms at bay when the weather turns cold.

And if you ever need immediate care, simply walk into your neighborhood CityMD urgent care. Our providers are trained to evaluate and treat asthma attacks in both children and adults.

How is asthma triggered by the weather?

“Exposure to changes in weather leads to irritation of the airways including inflammation and swelling in the lining of the airways, as well as spasms of the muscles around the airways,” explains Raghunandan Loganathan, MD, a pulmonologist at Summit Health, which provides primary and specialty care that is connected to CityMD. This irritation makes asthma symptoms worse, such as chest tightness, cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing.

In winter, the temperature is not always consistent — cold fronts alternate with days that are unseasonably warm. The airways are also exposed to extreme temperature changes every time you go inside to heated warm air after being outside in the frost.

“Not only do extremes of heat and cold trigger people's asthma but sudden changes in temperature can also cause symptoms to flare up,” adds Dr. Loganathan.

It may seem like environmental allergies like pollen or ragweed go on hiatus when the ground is frozen. But bear in mind that these triggers will resurface if you take a winter vacation to escape the cold weather. Hot and humid climates can also trigger asthma flare-ups.


Why is winter worse for those with asthma?

“Cold weather is a typical and well-known trigger for asthma,” Dr. Loganathan says. The airway in an asthmatic is more sensitive than it is in someone who does not have asthma.

Breathing dry, cold air is going to irritate the lining of the lungs of an asthmatic and causes spasms. Cold air also causes the nasal cavity and lungs to produce more mucus — leading to phlegm production and coughing.

In addition, the winter months typically bring surges in respiratory viruses, which are all triggers for asthma patients. And this year the spike in cases of RSV, the flu, the common cold, and COVID-19 have hit asthma sufferers particularly hard. Dr. Loganathan says studies show viral infections cause up to 60 to 70% of asthma flare-ups during the winter months.

While it might seem like staying inside is the answer, that is a short-term solution. You are exposed to more allergens than you realize indoors from dust mites, mold, and dampness to dry, forced air from heating systems and pet allergens.


How can you treat asthma differently in the winter?

It's a good idea to preemptively check in with your pulmonologist when the seasons shift, Dr. Loganathan advises. Make sure you're using the appropriate inhalers. “It is not uncommon to escalate baseline preventative treatment during winter months if patients have known triggers to cold weather,” he says.

Always wear warm clothing, especially around the mouth, nose, and head, which is where you lose the most heat. Try to breathe through the nose, which helps warm the air before it goes through the respiratory system. Carry a rescue inhaler, too. These will all help you manage an unexpected asthma flare-up.

Most importantly, Dr. Loganathan recommends immunizing yourself against influenza and COVID-19 infections with well-tested and readily available vaccines. “We have had a surge in influenza cases already, and it is never too late to get immunized,” he says.


If you think you may have asthma or are having difficulty keeping your asthma under control, make an appointment with a pulmonologist at Summit Health for an evaluation. And when your care needs can’t wait walk into your neighborhood CityMD urgent care. No appointment is needed.

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