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Weather changes trigger breathing problems

| Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, 12:11 a.m.

Asthma sufferer Marianne Drevna had not used her inhaler since the fall until last week brought sub-zero temperatures followed by a sharp increase into the upper 40s.

“This is a difficult time of year,” said Drevna, 60, of Dormont, who works as a respiratory therapist with the Cranberry-based nonprofit Breathe Pennsylvania.

Drevna and other experts say cold, dry air along with rapid fluctuations in weather often trigger breathing problems such as wheezing or tightness of the chest. This week's forecast includes wide-ranging weather conditions, with rain and snow and temperatures going from as high as 50 degrees on Monday to a low of about 20 by midweek.

Dr. David Skoner, director of the division of allergy, asthma and immunology at Allegheny Health Network, reported a 50 percent jump last week in prescription requests for albuterol, a drug used to treat breathing problems.

Skoner said several patients with well-controlled cases of asthma who might use inhalers only once or twice a year reported using them two or three times daily to deal with breathing problems.

“These conditions wreak havoc for people's lungs,” said Dr. Todd Green, an allergist and immunologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “It's a busy time of the year for us.”

The experts said there are several ways to prevent problems. Skoner advises sufferers to stay indoors when possible, and to cover the face with a mask or scarf when outside. The cover helps warm the air before it enters the lungs, acting as a humidifier of sorts, he said.

Green encourages people to “pre-treat” themselves with reliever medications such as albuterol before they go out into the cold. He said it's important for them to remain on daily preventative medications they might already take.

Drevna said it's important for asthma sufferers to regularly wash their hands to fight the spread of viruses such as the flu.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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