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Woman covering her mouth

Over Thanksgiving, the weather certainly took a quick turn towards winter. The sudden drop in the temperature into the 30″s requires winter precautions. The main conditions I see in the winter in my allergy/immunology practice are respiratory, sinus and skin related. Today, I will discuss the respiratory conditions that are more prevalent in the cold winter months.

Prevention: Cover Your Mouth

The first thing I warn my asthmatic patients in the freezing weather is: cover your mouth outside! Why? When you breathe in the cold air directly through your mouth instead of allowing it to flow through your nose, where it gets warmed up, you can get bronchospasm. Bronchospasm is a medical term where the lung’s air tubules constrict and make it harder to breathe. On his show, Dr. Oz provided the example of trying to suck in air with a smaller and smaller straw. I see many patients that forget to have some type of garment to cover their mouth, and then they get wheezing and chest tightness. This is preventable in many cases with a good scarf or a ski mask that covers the mouth.

Use Your Inhaler

Another preventive strategy, if you have asthma, is to use your inhaler about half-an-hour before you go outside. For example, when you are rushing in the morning to get ready, use your bronchodilator inhalers, such as albuterol or your combined controller inhaler like Advair, the first thing when you get up. Then, eat, shower, etc., and by the time you are out the door, the medicine is maximizing your bronchial protection.

Stay Hydrated

Another way to protect yourself from respiratory issues in the winter is to keep your airways well-hydrated. We all lose water in keeping ourselves warm by raising our body temperature – only we don’t notice this by getting thirsty. Drink hot beverages throughout the day- they will warm you up, and make sure your airways stay moist and don’t let sticky, or dry mucous develop.

Humidify the Air

In the winter, it’s not a bad idea to have a good humidifier in the bedroom. The extra moisture in the air will make your breathing more comfortable. Most people don’t have to worry about a humidifier causing mold problems, because the reason you are using it in the first place is that the environment is so dry. Just keep the humidifier clean by rinsing it with a teaspoon of vinegar and a few cups of hot water regularly.

Final Tip of the Day:

Wear Hats and Gloves on these frigid days. It’s not only fashionable but did you know that you lose most of the heat in your body through your scalp? The fingers are very sensitive to cold in most of us.

Dr. Dean Mitchell
Mitchell Medical Group, NYC & Long Island