Does your asthma get worse during autumn? You’re not alone. Fall can bring unexpected asthma triggers — from campfires to leaf piles.
Some of these fall asthma triggers are allergens, such as mold and ragweed. Others go along with falling temperatures, such as cold air, and the fires we may use to warm ourselves. “Plus, kids and teachers go back to school in the fall and can get exposed to colds and other respiratory viral infections, which are significant asthma triggers,” Dr. Rosenstreich adds.
Luckily, getting familiar with the most common triggers of the season can help you steer clear of asthma. Here are the details on seven fall asthma triggers and how to avoid them.
- Ragweed. This type of weed that blooms in the fall produces allergy-triggering pollen. “June through September are the worst months for ragweed,” says Joseph Leija, MD, allergist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital of Loyola University Health System in Illinois who is also certified by the National Allergy Bureau to do the daily official allergy count for the Midwest. To avoid this fall asthma trigger, stay inside as much as possible, especially between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. If you exercise outdoors, do so in the morning or evening, Dr. Leija says. “There are both prescription and non-prescription allergy medications available, including non-drowsy antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays. Start taking these medications several days before the ragweed season starts — don’t wait until you have symptoms,” he adds.
- Mold. A common allergen, mold can cause asthma symptoms in some people. “Mold grows year-round, but the worst times of the year for it are spring and fall,” Leija says. The best way to limit your exposure to mold is to control your home environment. “Keep your windows closed, and run a dehumidifier in your basement to reduce the moisture in your house,” Leija suggests. He also recommends covering your mattress and pillows with special allergenic covers that shield them from mold and pollen.
- Cold air. In and of itself, chilly fall air can be an asthma trigger. “Cold air can cause constriction of airways in the lungs — in fact, it’s actually used in lab settings to help diagnose asthma,” Rosenstreich says. Aside from staying indoors on cold days, there isn’t much you can do to avoid cold air, but you can prepare for when you do go outside. When you have to go outdoors, try wrapping a scarf around your nose and mouth; this will help warm the air before you breathe it in.
- Raking leaves. Fall leaves can be breeding grounds for mold, Rosenstreich says. Not only can mold grow on wet, dead leaves, but its spores can also travel easily in the crisp fall air. When raking leaves, Rosenstreich recommends wearing a paper surgical mask to keep mold spores out of your nose and lungs. Also, wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to keep them off your skin, and, if possible, take those clothes off before entering your home to avoid bringing mold into your home. Better yet, if you’re sensitive to leaves and mold, you can ask that a family member or other person do this chore for you.
- Campfires and bonfires. As you’re warming your hands or roasting marshmallows by a campfire, you could be risking making your asthma worse. “Smoke inhalation can trigger asthma,” Rosenstreich says. That doesn’t mean you have to miss out on this fun fall activity, however. “If you avoid getting too close to the fire and stand away from the direction the wind is blowing, you may avoid triggering asthma,” he says.
- Your fireplace. Using an indoor fireplace can produce enough smoke to trigger asthma symptoms. “Persistent exposure to fireplace smoke is associated with more severe asthma,” Rosenstreich explains. Kerosene and gas space heaters can also make asthma worse. Avoiding these heat sources altogether is the best way to prevent asthma. If that isn’t possible, Rosenstreich recommends you make sure you know how to use your fireplace or wood stove properly, keep the flue open, and have it professionally cleaned and checked for any leaks on a regular basis.
- Cold and flu viruses. Colds, the flu, and other respiratory infections are all asthma triggers. “The flu can be dangerous to anyone, but people with asthma tend to get the flu much worse,” Rosenstreich says. That’s why it’s particularly important for people with asthma to get a flu shot, which can help lessen the severity of the flu if you do get sick. “Fall is the best time to get a flu shot,” Rosenstreich adds.
You don’t have to avoid having fun to steer clear of the asthma triggers that strike with the change of the season. Just follow these tips for a happy, asthma-free autumn.