How Does Traveling to a Colder Climate Affect Asthma?

Published: November 19, 2019

Q: When I travel this winter, I’ll be heading from Nevada to New York state. Is the change to a cold environment likely to affect my asthma?

Asthmatic woman managing condition with medication in cold season.Photo: Getty

Dr. Bassett: Asthma may be affected by different triggers from seasonal pollen allergens to indoor allergens (such as pet dander and dust mites), irritants like air pollutants, as well as viral infections.

There has not been as much research into factors such as changes in temperature, air quality and/or humidity. Yet, guidelines published by the National Institutes of Health do identify climate changes as an instigator of worsening symptoms.

However, a study to quantify such changes in climate with asthma symptoms was conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan.

Reviewing emergency visit data, the researchers documented fluctuations in weather irritating many children’s lower airways and having a direct impact on asthma symptoms.

Other studies have reported that such abrupt environmental changes were more likely to lead to emergency visits for asthma in children. As well, research shows that cold, dry winter air is a frequent trigger in exercise-induced bronchospasm.

For your trip into chilly northeast conditions, be pro-active: plan ahead to anticipate changes in symptoms or worsening of asthma.

You may need to modify activities, such as reducing outdoor high aerobic sports during very cold, windy and dry days if your asthma is triggered by exercise. Do stay hydrated, especially if taking part in sports.

High ozone or pollution days are another factor worth considering.

Also, it’s not just something your mother said: a scarf wrapped loosely around the face can help to humidify the airways in winter weather.

Dr. Clifford Bassett, allergist and asthma specialist, is the Medical Director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York (; Twitter @allergyreliefny). He is on the faculty of NYU School of Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City and is also the author of The New Food Allergy Solution: Supercharge Resistance, Slash Medication, Stop Suffering.

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