Asthma and the Common Cold

Many patients with asthma suffer the most in the winter months. Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, all of these symptoms may be worse during the winter. Why is that? The answer is as common as the common cold. Not only are we entering the holiday season, we’re entering the virus season. As children return to school and the weather cools a bit, viruses become much more common. Children congregate at daycare centers, in schools, and adults congregate at work. This allows viruses to spread more readily.

How are viruses and asthma connected? When we become infected with a common cold, our body responds rapidly. Within hours our body begins fighting back, but it takes 7-10 days for most people to recover from a cold. Unfortunately, the recovery can take much longer for people with asthma. This is because asthmatics are more likely to develop inflammation in their lungs. Inflammation is the response of the body to harmful stimuli commonly known as pathogens. Asthmatics develop a much stronger inflammatory response in the lungs when exposed to a virus. These viruses can trigger swelling D-bal max of the tissue surrounding our airways, making it more difficult for air to pass. In addition, asthmatics produce more mucous in their lungs, and the muscles that surround their airways may contract, squeezing the airway even further. Put it all together and you can see why asthmatics may have difficulty recovering from viruses.

As an allergist, it’s my job to help prevent this type of reaction, and to treat it quickly once identified. This is done in 2 basic ways. First, patients with asthma must have a rescue medication. The most common rescue medication is Albuterol, which comes as an inhaler or via nebulizer and mask. Albuterol works within minutes to relax the muscles that are squeezing the airways. This allows more air to flow, and patients often feel much better. Unfortunately, Albuterol only works for 4-6 hours at a time. How can we prevent these reactions from occurring in the first place? The answer is with anti-inflammatory medications.

Anti-inflammatory medications for asthma come in several different forms, but the most common and most effective medications are inhaled steroids. These medications work within hours to days to decrease the swelling that surrounds the airways and decrease the production of mucous. In addition, using inhaled steroids makes Albuterol even more effective as a rescue medication. By combining Albuterol and inhaled steroids, one can see how all aspects of asthma are treated.