Avoiding Autumn Asthma Triggers

(October 22, 2010)

Fall is a magical time of year.  The leaves are changing colors, the air is cool and crisp, and it’s a great time to pick the perfect pumpkin. The fall season can also expose people with asthma to unexpected triggers that may make their asthma worse. The American Lung Association has a few tips on how to make your fall activities more asthma-friendly.

  • Temperature changes. Cold air can be an asthma trigger.
  • If it’s cold outside, wrap a scarf around your mouth and nose to help warm the air you breathe.
  • Fall Allergies. Ragweed can pollinate well into the fall causing allergy and asthma symptoms long past August. Stay inside if the pollen count is high between 10 am – 3 pm.
  • Frightful Fun. Hay rides, being scared in haunted houses and running through the neighborhood trick-or-treating are part of Halloween fun, and can also trigger asthma.
  • Make sure you have a quick-relief inhaler with you at all times and use it at the first sign of worsening symptoms.
  • Raking Leaves. What’s more fun than jumping in and rolling around a just raked, giant pile of colorful, fallen leaves? If you have asthma, that innocent pile of leaves may trigger your asthma. Mold can grow on dead leaves when they become wet, and mold can trigger asthma symptoms. Plus, the dryer, fall temperature makes it easier for mold spores to float in the air.
  • Wear a surgical mask to help you avoid breathing mold spores into your lungs.

    Wear gloves, long sleeve shirts and long pants to keep mold off your skin.

    Remove your clothes and wash as soon as possible to limit exposure to mold spores in your home.

  • Leaf Burning. The smoke you see when burning leaves has tiny particles that contain a number of pollutants which can irritate the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. These tiny particles can, cause respiratory infections or trigger an asthma episode.
  • Don’t burn leaves. If you live in a community where leaf burning is allowed, then TAKE ACTION.
  • Camping and Campfires. Don’t let asthma keep you from sleeping under the stars. With a little planning you can breathe easy on your next camping trip. Just make sure you have a quick-relief inhaler with you at all times and use it at the first sign of worsening symptoms.
  • Create an asthma backpack. The Asthma Backpack should include:

    • Copies of your Asthma Action Plan
    • An extra written prescription in case medication is lost or destroyed
    • Insurance card and healthcare provider contact information
    • Both quick-relief and controller medications (make sure there is enough to get you through your stay, and extra in case you get held-over unexpectedly)
    • A spacer
    • A Peak Flow Meter
    • Clean camping supplies. Sleeping bags that have been stored over the summer in the garage or the back of the closet are probably housing dust mites, which can be an asthma trigger. To reduce dust mite exposure, clean the sleeping bag per the manufacturer’s instructions by machine washing (preferably in hot water) or dry-cleaning. Tents can quickly become dusty inside or moldy from where the rain leaked in. Dust frequently with a damp towel, and dry puddles of water that may form in your tent immediately.
    • Avoid or limit exposure to campfire smoke. Campfire smoke can irritate your eyes, throat and lungs.  When grilling dinner, toasting marshmallows or warming up next to the fire stand as far away as possible, and position yourself so the wind does not blow the smoke in your face.

  • Staying warm: Gathering around the fireplace or warming your home with wood-burning stoves are part of the season, but their smoke can trigger an asthma episode. Kerosene and gas space heaters can also worsen asthma symptoms, so try to limit or avoid exposure if possible.

Just like tobacco smoke, wood smoke pollution is harmful to your health.  Cleaner burning alternatives such as natural gas and electric fireplaces are available for the glow without the smoke! Here are 10 tips for cleaner air.