Our certified respiratory
educators are ready to take your questions
Cold winter air can irritate anyone’s lungs. If you have a lung condition such as asthma, the winter air may affect you even more. Cold air can cause the airways in your lungs to tighten up, making it more difficult to breathe.
Keeping your asthma under control can help to reduce your risks and help you stay active this winter. Exercise has many health benefits for your lungs and for your general health, plus it can improve your mood.
Keep your asthma under control
Take these steps to help keep your asthma under control:
Reduce the effects of cold air
Steps to reduce the effects of cold air on your asthma include:
If you find it hard to be active in cold air, find activities you like to do indoors. The goal is to be active most days of the week.
Winter weather means more time indoors
In the colder months we also spend more time indoors than at other times of the year. Think about the air you breathe indoors. Keep the air you breathe at home and in your car as clean as possible.
Common indoor asthma triggers include:
Last year, less than one-third of Canadians got the flu shot. While vaccination rates started to creep up in the early part of the century (reaching 36 per cent in 2005), the rates have since dropped again with just 31 per cent in 2014.
The influenza vaccine, or flu shot, is easily accessible across the country and free-of-charge in all but three provinces. Yet, up to 70 per cent of Canadians choose not to receive it.
The risk of declining vaccination rates
“The flu shot is something that everyone should be getting every year,” says Dr. Matthew B. Stanbrook, Staff Physician in Toronto’s University Health Network and Associate Professor at University of Toronto’s Department of Medicine. “Public health guidelines in Canada in every province recommend getting it and it’s for a good reason: influenza is really common, it happens every year, and everyone in theory is at risk.”
Declining rates of vaccination have been attributed to people feeling it is unnecessary. But, what many people may not consider is the role of vaccination in building community immunity. In every community there are groups of people who have a far greater risk both of getting the flu and of experiencing grave consequences such as infections and pneumonia as a result.
“The likelihood of older people, small children, or people with chronic health conditions getting the flu is so much greater if people around them are not vaccinated,” says Diane Feldman, Certified Respiratory Educator at The Lung Association. “For those people, complications from the flu can be dire.”
When a healthy individual chooses not to get immunized, they are not just putting themselves at risk, they are increasing the chances of transmitting a potentially fatal virus to some of the most vulnerable members of the community. Community immunity, or herd immunity, is a form of indirect protection from infectious diseases that occurs when a large percentage of the population is immune to an infection, thereby providing protection for individuals who are not immune.
Building community immunity
“Herd immunity is terribly important, it’s what keeps our populations safe,” says Dr. Tom Kovesi, Paediatric Respirologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Professor at University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine. “With influenza it’s tough because you need about 80 per cent or more of the population getting the vaccine for herd immunity to really work and we’re just not there yet.”
“If you’re not convinced about getting the flu shot for your own protection,” says Feldman, “you should get it for the protection of other, more vulnerable, people around you.”
For more information on how the flu shot protects you and your family, watch this video from the Canadian Paediatric Society: Protect your family from the flu
Find a flu shot clinic in Ontario.
The diagnosis of asthma is based on many factors, including a detailed medical history, a physical examination, and breathing test results. Most of the time diagnosing asthma is fairly easy. However, sometimes it takes more time and further testing to figure out if you have asthma.
Here are the common ways that asthma is diagnosed.
Your health-care provider will ask you about:
Your health-care provider will:
Lung function testing
Breathing tests such as “spirometry” are the most important tests for diagnosing asthma.
Your health-care provider may refer you to an allergist for an allergy assessment. This may include an allergy skin test that tests you for reactions to specific allergens. This can help you to find out what allergens may be causing your asthma symptoms.
An allergy skin test involves placing drops of allergens on your forearm or back and making small scratches in the skin where the drops are located. The amount of redness and swelling caused by the allergens will help determine if you have any allergies.
Trial of asthma medications
Your health-care provider may prescribe asthma medications for you to take, to see if they improve your asthma symptoms. If asthma medications improve your symptoms, this increases the likelihood that you have asthma.
Chest x-rays are not very useful in the diagnosis of asthma, but they may help to rule out other reasons for your symptoms.
A blood test or sputum (phlegm, mucus) test may sometimes be ordered.
Predicting who will develop asthma is not easy. There are a number of risk factors that can make it more likely that you will develop asthma. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you will develop asthma. However, many people who have these risk factors never develop asthma.
Here are some of the more common risk factors.
Genetic (hereditary) factors
Outdoor air pollution