Each season has its own unique charms. Unfortunately, each season also brings distinctive challenges for breathing and respiratory health in general. Congested more than usual? Wondering if that headache can be pegged to latent nasal pressure? Get a rare nosebleed? Worried about silent, invisible killers lingering in the air during certain times of season? Curious as to what you can do about it? Or maybe you’ve always had difficulty breathing in autumn, and you’re still not entirely sure why. No matter what questions you have, there’s a good chance you can find answers in this summary of the seasonal factors that can negatively impact your breathing and overall respiratory health.
Winter: Dry winter air can be a big irritant on both the nasal passageways as well as air absorption through the lungs. The air has to be warmed, which is part of the role of the nasal passageways. Whether it’s shoveling snow or shredding a mountain, strenuous activity requires more air drawn in through the mouth. The less warm, less filtered air is also why you can have a big coughing fit when exercising outside in the winter. Another noticeable effect of this dry air is nosebleeds, but it’s also a big trigger for asthma, especially exercise-induced asthma.
- Remedies: Apart from inhalers, there are a number of things you can do to reduce the effects of cold, dry air in your lungs. Breathing in the steam of an herbal tea is a big help in general. For exercise, warm up before any strenuous activity. Make a conscious effort to keep breathing through your nose. Can’t do that? Think about a face mask or specially-designed scarf.
Mountain valleys also frequently have stagnant, potentially hazardous air to breathe during the winter. These valleys experience a phenomenon known as an inversion in which colder air trapped underneath a dome of warmer air. If this valley is home to industrialized activity, the inversion can trap all the automobile, factory, and other airborne pollution.
- Remedies: Avoidance and self-confidence. Stay indoors during the worst days, especially if you’re very young, very old, or have preexisting respiratory problems. If you must go outside, use a specially designed mask that can filter out the air particles.
Spring: While winter throws a handful of breathing hazards at us, spring is dominated by pollen and other airborne allergens. The biochemistry of many spring allergies boils down to the fact that many pollen proteins, though harmless in themselves, resemble those of human parasites. Particular years can fluctuate, but spring allergies are getting worse overall due to climate change and longer growing seasons.
- Remedies: Management is usually the best bet. Some combination of antihistamine and pseudoephedrine is enough for a lot of people. It’s tough to tell people to stay inside during the spring, but maybe know what plant life is particularly troublesome and stop smelling the roses so intensely. For severe cases, you may want to seek out an ENT doctor and/or allergy center that can identify and target your specific vulnerability to spring allergens.
Summer: Summer has its own grass and weed allergies. Likewise, very hot and humid air can also tax your breathing. The extra weight and “stickiness” of the air can make it difficult to fully inhale and expel the air in your lungs and especially problematic for those with COPD. Otherwise, smog and ozone are the biggest problems with healthy breathing in the summer, especially for vulnerable populations. It’s also true that these problems can compound each other. The worst thing you can do is cut the grass with an allergy sensitivity in the middle of the afternoon during high-risk air pollution days.
- Remedies: Here, the options include staying inside or wearing a special facemask. Breathing exercises can also be helpful in increasing lung capacity and the various muscle groups that are responsible for moving heavy summer air. It’s also worth pointing out that people can be predisposed to breathing difficulties of the heavy air of summer, or the dry air of winter.
Fall: Allergy season, take two! While the same similarity to parasite-based proteins applies to both spring and fall allergies, the exact composition and concentration of different pollens, grasses, and weeds. While asthma can flair up during any season, many people report their worst asthma symptoms tend to occur in the fall. Autumn is also anxiety season. For those who experience trouble breathing when feeling anxious and are prone to fall allergies, the season can be a troublesome 1-2 punch.
- Remedies: Again, this is often more about management than a cure, and an antihistamine to reduce the allergic reaction and pseudoephedrine to relieve sinus congestion is enough for a lot of people, but there are also home remedies that can minimize the need for these over-the-counter medications. For more serious cases, talk to an allergy specialist.