A feeling of dread comes over me whenever I face another winter living with asthma. It’s the usual dread of cold air and the risk of infection. It’s this feeling that is now forcing me into action early in the autumn.
As a teacher, autumn is always the time when I get myself organised and back into any routines I might have slipped out of. I go back to school in late August when it’s time to dust off my laptop and get organised for the academic year ahead.
After a couple of unbearable winters living with asthma, I decided to add ‘prepare for winter’ to my list of priorities for the autumn months. When you’ve lived with asthma for as long as I have, you know that preparation is key.
The impact of colds and infections on my asthma
Before I got into the habit of properly preparing for the winter months, I found myself unwell with colds and infections every couple of weeks. I was told that a lot of the illnesses could be put down to being a teacher, and that I’d eventually ‘build up a resistance’ to infections that I was exposed to in the classroom.
The issue with this was that I had been teaching for several years already, and didn’t feel as though I had built up any resistance at all. It felt like once I overcame one chest infection, there was another one waiting to take its place.
This also triggered my asthma – so not only did I have to manage the symptoms of a chest infection, but I also had my asthma symptoms to contend with. The symptoms included wheeziness, coughing, chest tightness, and loss of sleep.
I was ill so regularly that I was actually embarrassed to tell people when I felt unwell. All I wanted was to feel as healthy and as resilient as everyone else, but I just couldn’t get there.
My asthma symptoms got worse
All of a sudden, I began experiencing a lot of unexpected asthmatic flare ups. I would have coughing fits, I’d feel wheezy most of the time, and my voice was always weak. Environmental factors that I could previously endure (like vehicle pollution in cities) suddenly became unbearable. It eventually felt like my body was reacting to every trigger I encountered.
This was a frustrating change, as previously I had never experienced this level of hypersensitivity to everyday things like dust, cold air, and air pollution. It was scary that my asthma could be so unpredictable and so uncontrolled.
I was once so badly affected and run down during the winter that I remained unwell until May (which is late spring in Ireland), and came down with a case of shingles. It felt like there was no end to my list of illnesses.
Because of my poor health everything else started to fall apart… I was missing out on social events and couldn’t pursue my hobbies. I had many medical expenses from visiting my doctor, getting emergency appointments, and all the prescriptions from the pharmacy. I was missing work and other important engagements.
I knew this wasn’t right.
Taking back control
Thankfully, in the end, my doctor recommended that I see a respiratory consultant. They confirmed my asthma was not under control and that the majority of my illnesses were linked to asthma in some way.
I got a lot of reassurance from this because I could finally understand that some of the symptoms I had been experiencing were as a result of my asthma and my allergies. It was also reassuring to hear that these symptoms could be easily managed with a few simple adjustments to my routine.
How to prepare for winter with asthma
After this realisation, I worked closely with my doctor and my consultant to get my asthma under control. I did lots of research on how to properly manage my symptoms during the colder months, and decided I was going to make a conscious effort to try and improve my health during the winter.
If you also need help managing your asthma symptoms talk to your doctor. Together you can come up with a plan to get your symptoms under control. In the meantime, here is my winter checklist that helps me manage my asthma:
Keep your asthma symptoms under control
Make an ‘asthma action plan’
Work closely with your doctor on how to identify triggers and the symptoms of uncontrolled asthma and work out your medication routine. Follow this consistently.
Cold air is one of my worst triggers. If you’re the same, invest in a warm winter coat and a scarf. During cold spells cover your chest, neck and mouth. This is essential for when I’m doing playground supervision in the winter!
Ensure your home and work environments are as dust-free as possible by vacuuming and dusting regularly. I wear a face mask while I’m completing these tasks to avoid dust that is stirred up and the inevitable asthma and allergy flare ups this causes.
Carry your reliever inhaler
Always have your reliever inhaler on your person in case of an asthma flare up. I also find that it’s helpful to place vapour rub under my nose and on my chest if I am finding it hard to breathe.
Rather than allowing your symptoms to develop and worsen, visit your doctor when things flare up. This is especially important if you have an infection.
Try to prevent infection:
We are often prone to infection and other illnesses during the winter months, so my doctor advised I get a flu vaccine as a precaution. Speak to your healthcare team to see if this is something that might be suitable for you also.
If you can, make a special effort to prepare healthy lunches to take to work or on days out. Try to also keep up with an exercise routine if you are feeling well enough.
Try to avoid harmful bacteria
Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer or some tissues with you at all times. I find this helps me to steer clear of picking up infections in the classroom during the winter months.
On days when you feel unwell, take the time you need to catch up on sleep and to recover. You’ll thank yourself for this later.
By following my ‘prepare for winter’ checklist and understanding what will keep my asthma under control, I can now finally enjoy the season. It’s such a relief to know that by making simple changes to my routine and by remaining consistent, I can carry on doing the things that I love. I feel so much healthier and stronger, and my doctor, my family, and my friends have all noticed the difference.
I’m no longer embarrassed to admit if I get sick because it’s not such a regular occurrence anymore! I will continue to consistently care for myself and my asthma, especially when I know winter is coming.
UK/MED/19/0188 August 2019