The onset of winter in the Washington DC metro area has brought two cold-related health problems to the forefront.
The first one concerns many people with respiratory disorders like asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Cold dry air is a known irritant to the respiratory passages and can trigger an increase in the frequency and severity of respiratory symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In addition, respiratory infections, especially caused by viruses, are more prevalent during the winter months. Influenza (the “flu”) is just one of the many viral infections which are notorious in aggravating asthma and pulmonary-related conditions.
Avoiding exposure to the cold air, in addition to minimizing the chance of developing a viral upper respiratory tract infection by frequent hand washing and covering one’s sneezes and coughs, can help prevent flare-ups in people with breathing difficulties such as asthma and COPD. People with persistent asthma (defined by any asthma symptom which occurs more often than twice a week during the daytime and/or more often than twice a month during the nighttime) need to use their controller medications on a daily basis as prescribed, in order to reduce the chances of exacerbating their asthma. Controller medications may include inhaled corticosteroids, long-acting beta agonists, leukotriene antagonists, and/or theophylline. In more severe asthmatics that meet certain criteria, a humanized antibody called Xolair (omalizumab), may also be prescribed in order to help prevent asthma exacerbations.
The second issue concerns people with a history of a specific type of “hives” called “cold-induced urticaria.” Though there are usually multiple triggers for hives (urticaria), exposure to colder temperatures can result in giant hives over exposed skin in susceptible individuals. The condition can be very serious in selected patients and is usually diagnosed in our office by an “ice cube test,” where an ice cube is placed on the forearm of the patient for 10 to 15 minutes and then removed. When the skin re-warms in a few minutes, an elevated red wheal or hive in the shape of the ice cube confirms this disorder. In rare instances, this condition is also associated with some systemic diseases and blood tests for cold agglutinins and cryoglobulins may be appropriate. Treatment begins with avoiding the cold when possible. In addition, various medications can be used to help prevent the hives and/or anaphylaxis that can occur in people with this condition.
The board certified allergists at Black and Kletz Allergy are experts in cold-related respiratory and skin disorders. Please call any one of our 3 office locations in Washington, DC, McLean, VA (Tysons Corner, VA) or Manassas, VA if you need further information or are in need of an evaluation and advice regarding any of the cold-related disorders above or other cold-related disorder not mentioned above.