Navigating Winter’s Triple Threat: Respiratory Challenges Demand Proactive Asthma Management

By Dr. John Seyerle

Once again, we are faced with a triple threat this winter. The CDC projects a staggering 31 million flu cases and 360,000 flu-related hospitalizations nationwide, posing a significant risk to individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions. Families are bracing for a relentless season of airborne illnesses, compounded by the ongoing circulation of COVID-19 alongside the annual flu season. Adding to the complexity is the spike in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), particularly affecting young children and older adults.

For individuals with respiratory conditions, particularly asthma, which affects more than 262 million people, this season can be a dangerous one if unprepared. The convergence of these respiratory challenges is expected to create a perfect storm, prompting concerns among health officials and necessitating a comprehensive approach to safeguard the respiratory health of vulnerable individuals.

Recognizing signs and symptoms: Unraveling the enigma of respiratory conditions

Patients with respiratory conditions do the best with warm and humid air. However, as winter sets in and freezing temperatures prevail, patients inhaling dry, cold air—especially during physical activity—can begin presenting symptoms such as prolonged chest tightness, coughing, wheezing, drowsiness, or difficulty breathing. A crucial aspect of managing respiratory health this winter is distinguishing between the symptoms of these asthma flare-ups, the flu, COVID-19, and RSV.

Recognizing unique symptom patterns is critical to enable prompt and accurate diagnosis. While the flu often presents with a sudden onset of fever, body aches, and fatigue, COVID-19 may manifest with respiratory indicators like a cough, shortness of breath, and loss of taste or smell. RSV, commonly affecting the respiratory tract, can lead to mild cold-like symptoms and severe respiratory distress. These symptoms, no matter the illness, can exacerbate typical asthma symptoms, confusing patients who are trying to determine the root cause of their illness.

Asthma specialists play a vital role in conducting thorough evaluations and diagnostic tests like lung function testing and allergy testing to determine the root cause of a patient’s symptoms and the appropriate course of action. Once a provider has defined the root of the illness, they can work alongside their patient to devise a treatment plan.

Prevention measures and asthma treatment management

For those with asthma, navigating the triple threat with a proactive approach to prevention is crucial, including adhering to vaccination guidelines for the flu and COVID-19 and staying vigilant with hygiene practices such as regular handwashing and mask-wearing. Additionally, many patients with asthma can control their symptoms by avoiding triggers, taking daily asthma medications, and using a quick-relief inhaler. However, for those with severe asthma, additional treatments are often necessary.

Severe asthma medication, which may include antibiotics and oral corticosteroids, aims to address the underlying causes of severe asthma symptoms. An alternative approach involves biologics specifically designed to treat severe asthma by targeting specific antibodies, molecules, or cells involved in asthma, disrupting pathways that lead to inflammation-causing symptoms. Additionally, immunotherapy presents another option for patients with severe asthma, aiming to modify the immune response and reduce asthma symptoms.

Behavior and lifestyle changes also play a crucial role in managing asthma. Adopting a healthy diet, regular exercise, avoiding environmental triggers such as allergens and pollution, and stress management are essential components of a comprehensive asthma management plan. Individuals are advised to monitor the weather forecast for days of excessive cold that may aggravate their asthma during the winter months.

In the management and prevention of asthma, it is vital to follow the asthma management plan provided by your specialist. This personalized plan is tailored to your specific needs and body, and working collaboratively with your specialist ensures that your asthma is well-controlled and your treatment plan is effective in maintaining your respiratory health.

As winter unfolds with the looming triple threat of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV, individuals with asthma and other respiratory conditions can take proactive steps to protect their health. By working with patients to ensure they stay informed about distinctive symptoms, adhere to prevention measures, and effectively manage their conditions, asthma specialists can help individuals navigate this challenging season more confidently.

Dr. John Seyerle is an allergy and immunology specialist at Allergy & Asthma Care located in Cincinnati, Ohio, a part of the AllerVie Health network. Graduating from Ohio State University College of Medicine in 2002, he later completed an internship at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in 2003 and a fellowship at Ohio University Medical Center in 2011.