Updated 30 October 2017

The four seasons of asthma

Approximately 75% of people with asthma also suffer from allergies. Just as allergies may increase during seasonal change, so too can the occurrence of asthma attacks.

Approximately 75% of people with asthma also suffer from allergies. Just as allergies may increase during seasonal change, so too can the occurrence of asthma attacks

There are a number of triggers which, if avoided, can reduce the risk of developing an asthma attack. It's important to be aware of these triggers, many of which are seasonal. If you have asthma, you should also try and avoid these triggers where possible. Medication compliance is also critical as is implementing healthier lifestyle choices such as opting to stop smoking.

Common asthma triggers include animals, dust, changes in weather, chemicals in the air or food, exercise, mould, pollen, respiratory infections such as the common cold, strong emotions, and tobacco smoke. Aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also provoke asthma in some patients.

Prevalence fluctuate seasonally
The prevalence of these triggers may increase or decrease seasonally and, although it's not possible to completely avoid these environmental triggers, there are ways to minimise exposure in the home, school, work, recreation and travel environments.

As the seasons move from summer into autumn. the drop in temperature in the mornings and evenings may trigger attacks for some asthmatics. There are also a number of outdoor moulds that thrive in the damp environment created by falling and decaying leaves which asthmatics should be mindful of.

The winter months are particularly hazardous for asthma sufferers due to the cold temperatures and an increase in smog from fires. For those asthma sufferers whose attacks are triggered by cold, it is important to recognise the early warning signs before the onset of an attack and through treating even mild symptoms this can assist in preventing severe episodes.

Early warning signs that may occur just before or at the very beginning of an asthma attack include frequent coughing, especially at night; shortness of breath; feeling fatigued and irritable; feeling tired or weak when exercising; wheezing or coughing after exercise; decreases in lung function as measured on a peak flow meter; signs of a cold or allergies; and trouble sleeping.

Asthma symptoms not the same
In general, these signs are not severe enough to stop you from going about your daily activities, but through recognising the signs asthmatics can prevent an attack or prevent one from getting worse.

Not every person with asthma has the same symptoms and while some asthmatics may go for extended periods without having any symptoms, others may have asthma symptoms every day. Vitally important is the correct diagnosis, treatment options and monitoring which can dramatically improve quality of life.

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Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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