Preventive maintenance: Save your breath

by Karen Bowen

Although the winter season offers breathtaking scenery, it can also create an environment that negatively impacts your health. In addition to slips, falls, and overexertion while shoveling, winter’s cold, dry air can also trigger asthma attacks.

Asthma is a medical condition that causes your airways to narrow and swell, and become filled with excess mucous. This makes breathing difficult, and triggers wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Many people experience minor bouts of asthma with little effect; however, for others, asthma can become life-threatening.

Typical symptoms for asthma include: shortness of breath; chest pain or tightness; a wheezing or whistling sound when exhaling; coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as flu or a cold; or difficulty sleeping due to shortness of breath.

It’s really not clear why some people get asthma and others don’t, but it’s likely due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Your risk increases if: your parent or sibling has asthma; if you have other allergies, including atopic dermatitis or hay fever; if you are overweight or a smoker; or, if you have been exposed to secondhand smoke, exhaust fumes, or occupational breathing hazards like chemicals used in manufacturing or farming.

Some common asthma triggers include: winter’s cold, dry air; airborne substances (pollen, dust mites, mold spores, pet dander, particles of insect waste); respiratory infections (common cold, flu); physical activity (exercise-induced asthma); certain medications, including beta blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve); sulfites and preservatives added to some types of foods and beverages (shrimp, dried fruit, processed potatoes, beer, wine); gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acids back up into your throat; air pollutants and irritants (smoke, chemicals); and strong emotions and stress.

Although some truckers may experience occupational asthma due to workplace irritants (chemical fumes, gases, dust), trucking is considered a lower-risk occupation for developing asthma.

Asthma has four major classification categories – mild intermittent, mild persistent, moderate persistent and severe persistent – depending on severity and frequency of symptoms. Although asthma cannot be cured, its symptoms can be controlled through treatment and lifestyle adjustments.

If you think you have asthma, get checked out by a doctor to avoid long-term lung damage and maintain optimal respiratory health. Effective long-term monitoring and control will improve your quality of life and prevent severe asthma attacks.

Regularly monitoring your symptoms will allow your doctor to adjust your treatment plan, when needed. Your asthma may be worsening if: your signs and symptoms become more frequent and bothersome; if you find it increasingly difficult to breath; or, if you need to use a quick-relief inhaler more often.

Following an appropriate treatment plan can be very effective in preventing short- and long-term complications.

Treatment can: reduce asthma’s impact on your sleep, work and recreational activities; reduce resultant sick days, emergency room visits and hospitalizations; avoid permanently narrowed bronchial tubes, which reduces your air intake; or, reduce negative side-effects from long-term use of medications.

Since severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening, it is important to be aware when your signs and symptoms worsen – emergency treatment may be required if you experience a rapid worsening of shortness of breath or wheezing; when your quick-relief inhaler doesn’t relieve your symptoms or you become short of breath during minimal physical activity.

Take steps to avoid triggering an asthma attack outside in the winter by covering your mouth in the cold, dry weather. In summer, use your air conditioner to reduce the amount of airborne pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, and your exposure to dust mites.

In general, avoid carpeting, mold, and pet dander. Reduce dust by regularly wiping down and vacuuming inside your cab. Maintain optimal humidity levels with a humidifier. Control your heartburn.

Try some herbal/natural remedies to reduce symptoms – black seed, caffeine, and choline can be effective.

As always, maintain a healthy diet, weight and active lifestyle – breathe easier in the new year.

Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant, and she can be reached at


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