It can start with a chill in the air and end with difficulty breathing.
For people with asthma, the start of winter can be challenging as the air temperature and humidity drop and more viruses start to circulate.
The cooling temperature, dry air and increased circulation of viruses can contribute to more severe asthma symptoms for many of the one in nine Australians with the condition.
Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s most recent data reveal rates for asthma hospitalisations in 2017 rose for young people aged 5 to 14 years from an average of 1.9 presentations per 100,000 population in January to 11.4 per 100,000 in May, continuing to stay high until August, when rates begin to gradually drop as the weather warmed.
Surveys conducted by Asthma Australia found some people with asthma experience significant symptoms in the cold weather. Many mention having a consistent itchy throat or feeling unwell. There have even been cases where parents of children discover they have asthma due to their reaction to the change in weather over winter.
Asthma Australia Educator, Louise Hodda, said cold weather can contribute to inflammation in the airways for some people with asthma, leading to these symptoms.
Cold air can dry the lining of the airways and lead to increased irritation and sensitivity, with tightening of the smooth muscle around the airways.
Coming into one of the high seasons for symptoms, experts recommend people with asthma visit a doctor for an asthma review and to ensure their written Asthma Action Plan is up to date.
A written Asthma Action Plan is a simple and easy-to-use document that sets out clearly how to manage asthma on a daily basis, including the use of preventer medication for many people.
It also advises what to do when symptoms are getting worse and when to seek extra help. These plans are really important for young people and children, their schools, sporting clubs and childcare centres.
Asthma control is even more critical in 2021, with the increase in circulating viruses as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted as another potential trigger for asthma.
Vaccinations are a proven and safe way to reduce the spread of some viruses, including influenza and COVID-19.
Traditionally, the peak season has been from June to September for influenza, which can be fatal for young people. The Department of Health recommends waiting two weeks between having the influenza and COVID-19 vaccinations.