Will my kids stop getting sick all the time if I move south?
January 14, 2015 7:31 AM   Subscribe

I live in a place with cold gray snowy winters. Despite no family history on either side, both my kids (1 and 4) have asthma that flares when they have a virus. There is still hope that they will outgrow it since they don't have symptoms when they aren't sick. The problem is that this winter they have had viruses All. The. Time. My mom keeps telling me that if I move somewhere warmer the kids won't be sick so much. I have great difficulty believing this and am curious what the hive mind has to say.

My location is listed in my profile. It does indeed have overall high rates of asthma, though I don't think we fall into any of the specific risk factors, and we don't live in a city neighborhood (we're in a suburb) so I haven't been able to identify prevalence rates for our zip code. The baby is seeing an allergist soon and we may have to get a pulmonologist too depending on how things go.

So... would the kids be healthier if we moved to warmer climes? (Let's ignore for the moment the job concerns, our good access to transit, our location near a high quality children's hospital, good schools, and a host of other considerations.) If not (or even if so) what are some things we should be doing at home to try and keep their lungs under control?
posted by telepanda to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My husband grew up in Baltimore. Very warm comparatively to New England, where we live now. He got all kinds of respiratory things as a kid, and he still has every kind of respiratory thing every winter. So,no, growing up somewhere warmer may not make a difference at all. But air QUALITY may -- a place with cleaner air might help, whether the weather is warmer or colder.
posted by zizzle at 7:36 AM on January 14, 2015

Cold can stress you, and reduce your immunity in that way.

However, the most important thing for avoiding disease transmission is to keep your hands clean. Expecting kids that little to keep their hands clean is like expecting waves not to crash upon the shore.
posted by tel3path at 7:38 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes, basically colder climates make it easier to catch viruses for a lot of reasons.

As far as what to do about it, a home humidifier can help a lot.
posted by empath at 7:38 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Don't move to Atlanta is their Asthma is triggered by pollen. I'm just saying. *snurf, snuffle, honk*
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:39 AM on January 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

The problem with warmer climates: certain pests and pathogens that might otherwise freeze to death never die. Also, long pollen season. Also, humidity and mold. You might solve one problem but you'll discover other new ones.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

I have asthma and it's easier in the south, but that's because a lot of my asthma is allergy driven, and I'm not allergic to as much down here..... yet. Members of my family who have moved south had a couple good years, and then were back to misery, as they became allergic to the local flora. It just really depends on what's driving it.

For me, my allergist is a critical part of how I stay healthy. She really goes the extra mile to help me out and figure out what's going on. I haven't had an ER stay since I started seeing her.

I'm an adult, but here are things that help me in the winter in the North:

- Humidifiers are my friend. The dry seems to exacerbate my issues.
- Scarfs are my friend. They help me because I'm not breathing cold air in to my lungs, causing them to seize up in shock
- Drinking lots of water is my friend. It thins out the bronchial secretions, so that I don't get so many mucus plugs in my lungs (gross, I know)
- Getting good sleep, exercising, and eating well help too (I'm sure your kids already get all this)
- Allergy covers on pillows and mattresses make SUCH a big difference.
- Hardwood floors also help a lot, or vacuuming weekly with a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

I don't think that moving south in and of itself will magically fix everything. Kids in Atlanta and LA still get viruses.
posted by RogueTech at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I vote for cleaner air too. My hometown is extremely warm (central CA - essentially desert) and the air quality was /is terrible and everyone has athsma. Going up into the Sierras was good, the coast better.

Air filter, humidifier, clean house, wash their hands a lot.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:40 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Tell her it's a nice thought, but no. Avoiding cold weather just means moving to somewhere where the pollen will, more likely than not, give your kids just as many problems. Basically, moving to a warmer climate would just mean swapping one set of triggers for another.

My source: I was born in Connecticut but have also lived several other places (warm and cold, inland and coastal, wettish and dry) and I have a nicely lengthy childhood history of asthma and other breathing problems.

And if you use a humidifier: keep that things filters really REALLY clean.
posted by easily confused at 7:43 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes - people in warm climates get sick plenty, especially kids.

Nth it depends on what their particular triggers are - cold air was definitely one mine.
posted by jrobin276 at 7:44 AM on January 14, 2015

Depends on your kids. An anecdote: My fiancé has asthma and allergies, and he suffered a lot growing up in Michigan. He also suffered a bit when he lived in Savannah, and suffers a lot now living in North Carolina. But the 2 years he lived in Texas? No problems whatsoever. He still has no idea why.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:53 AM on January 14, 2015

I think pollution in the air is relevant. I think probiotics influence how often we get viruses. Pretty sure cold is a trigger for asthma. And then of course, seasonal allergies....

You could move some place warmer with high pollen or pollution, and that would not solve much, would it?

I think this is a doctor question, someone with experience who can speak to what they've seen work or not over the years.

Unusually, I got bronchitis this year and it was directly the result of having used flu medicine with decongestant (severely dried out my lungs) coupled with an intense dry spell (Los Angeles is basically reclaimed desert) and man was that painful. And it lasted 4 weeks. My doctor explained how viruses work and how I accidentally made it worse with the decongestant. He offered me a steroid, probably the same thing prescribed for you children because he said it was an inhaler for asthma. I didn't try it, tho. The one day I had relief during this illness was the day I spent at the beach - misty sea salt air.

So yes, empath's suggestion to use a humidifier is spot-on.

I confess that after my doctor's explanation, along with my regular humidifier, I boiled a pot or two with water and sea salt to recreate the "beach effect" to try and get some relief. Worked OK!

Winters in the North East, my parents would put trays of water next to the radiators. That's not feasible probably with small children around, but, letting you know people take steps to improve air quality in winter.

Just spitballing, moving by the ocean might help.

Generally, tho, talk to your doctor and take steps to improve air quality at home.

After my bronchitis cleared, it started to rain in LA, and I did not pick up a second virus or bacteria. Pretty sure the change in air quality helped (I have a preschooler, I'm swimming in cold and flu germs, I'm certain.)

That's everything I know. Talk to you doctor. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 7:57 AM on January 14, 2015

Anecdata: Whenever I moved from one region of the US to another, my allergies would get significantly better for about a year, and then slowly ramp back up again as I became maladapted to the local pollens. The differences in my rate of viral infections in AL, PA, IL, WA, MI, and MA have not been significant, or have been more closely tied to what I was doing (school, office vs public jobs, etc).
posted by aimedwander at 8:00 AM on January 14, 2015

I'm also going to offer an observation, which may be completely off base. I don't have kids, so it may be in the realm of "you have no idea since you don't have them", and I completely admit that. This is just what I've noticed with friends and family....

Kids between the ages of 0-5 seem to get sick a lot. They just do. They do if they're in childcare or daycare, or if they have a stay at home parent. They do if they're in public school or private school or home schooled. They do if they live in Michigan or Arizona or Oregon. Having asthma makes being sick worse, but I think they'd be getting sick regardless of where they live.

I think there's a lot of good suggestions above on how to do as much prevention as you can, but I think it's kind of the nature of the beast of having small kids. And that focusing on mitigation and possible prevention is the best you can do, but moving isn't going to magically fix this.
posted by RogueTech at 8:08 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I lived in Australia most of my life with the mild warm to hot climate that entails and had asthma all my life, only since moving to the Northern US has the worst of my symptoms decreased significantly, also has improved my constant nasal drip, well at least confined it to the summer months only now which is nice too. Moving may infact expose your kids to a whole bunch of regional varieties of coughs & colds, they have not gained immunities to, and I imagine the first 12 months will be worse as they catch every new to them strain of cough & cold going around.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on January 14, 2015

I agree with a humidifier and the air quality of your home. My friends' daughter's asthma disappeared after they removed the old carpet from her room and the main living area and replaced with hard flooring.

I know my nose and my son's nose tend to get much more snotty if there isn't a humidifier running through the night while we sleep.
posted by jillithd at 8:25 AM on January 14, 2015

Historically, the place to move when you have respiratory problems (usually tuberculosis) has been somewhere dry and high-altitude.

But the prevalence of respiratory disease in winter has less to do with temperature than with the fact that we spend more time huddled in closed-up buildings together. As others have pointed out, warm temperatures (and humidity) also bring pollen, mold, bugs, etc. Cities in warm climes can have air pollution just as bad as those in cold ones.

I think you'd be better off getting a good home air filtration system and adjusting humidity, rather than uprooting your family. Eventually your kids will also learn to protect themselves with handwashing, personal space, and other things grownups do to reduce respiratory risks.
posted by zennie at 8:25 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's the dryness (low humidity) that allows the throat and nose to dry out, and let viruses in.

Get your kids to wash their hands?
posted by Nevin at 8:30 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some studies:

The epidemiology of asthma exacerbations: "The prevalence of asthma has been reported to be higher in regions with warmer climates and lower in regions with greater variation in average temperature and relative humidity..."

The relationship of meteorological conditions to the epidemic activity of respiratory syncytial virus: "At sites with persistently warm temperatures and high humidity, RSV activity was continuous throughout the year, peaking in summer and early autumn. In temperate climates, RSV activity was maximal during winter, correlating with lower temperatures. In areas where temperatures remained colder throughout the year, RSV activity again became nearly continuous. Community activity of RSV is substantial when both ambient temperatures and absolute humidity are very high, perhaps reflecting greater stability of RSV in aerosols. Transmission of RSV in cooler climates is inversely related to temperature possibly as a result of increased stability of the virus in secretions in the colder environment. UVB radiation may inactivate virus in the environment, or influence susceptibility to RSV by altering host resistance."

Using seasonal variations in asthma hospitalizations in children to predict hospitalization frequency: "Of the 631,422 pediatric hospitalizations in the state of Maryland during the years 1986-1999, 45,924 (7%) had a primary admission diagnosis of asthma. Frequency of hospitalization for asthma was lowest in the summer in all age groups, and highest in the fall. Seasonal variation in severe asthma episodes was least striking in children aged 15-18. This was in contrast to non-asthma admissions, which were highest in winter in preschool children, but relatively flat in school- and teenaged children. "

Impact of Pollution, Climate, and Sociodemographic Factors on Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Seasonal Respiratory Viruses: Following initiation of these respiratory viruses in the fall and peaks in the winter, the late spring and summer seasons typically signify the end of a virus’ ability to aerially spread in each respective hemisphere....Many investigations provide evidence that posits a specific factor as having a strong influence on seasonality. However, to say that there is one most important factor is likely false. Each of these, including humidity, behavior, vitamin D, dynamical resonance, human physiology, national synchrony due to travel, and demographics, are all likely to be strong contributors because they increase virus survival, virulence, and transmissibility between individuals."

But remember that what is true at a population level is not necessarily true at an individual level - so warmer weather may be better for asthmatic children (on average, as a group) but worse for your specific children, or vice versa.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:37 AM on January 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

So, it makes me nervous being maybe the only person who agrees with your mom but I do (albeit over sunshine and not warmth) and here's why.

I have asthma and I used to get ill all winter, I mean no kidding, just cold after flu after cold, and I'm similar to your kids in that the asthma doesn't trouble me much other than when I get ill.

So I wondered if allergies were making me iller than I should be, and went to get checked, and it turned out that amongst other things I was chronically low on Vitamin D, thought to potentially be a widespread problem in northern latitudes.

Since then, I've upped my intake of oily fish and nuts, and I also do my own light therapy via the local tanning shop, all winter. I feel TONS better, this year I've had one cold since November, last year I had no colds at all, November til March. Side note, I also have a lot fewer problems with my moods and don't emerge from February feeling like an emotional zombie anymore.

Data pool of one, but I swear sunlight (as opposed to warmth) is the key for me and my winter health, maybe for your kids too.
posted by greenish at 9:20 AM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I may have missed this upthread, but one thing about cold weather is that folks tend to be inside more, so they tend to pass germs around more.
posted by Pax at 9:35 AM on January 14, 2015

Totally personal data point, but my asthma was actually much worse in a warmer climate (of course, I was also doing different jobs, etc. so that could be part of it). In general I think this tends to be a very personal thing depending on your specific triggers, etc. Your asthma doc might be a better person to ask about this since he'd know more about your kids' specific issues.

I will also say: for me, getting the asthma under control + having specific strategies of what to do when I START feeling sick made a night-and-day difference for how often I've gotten sick. It used to be that pretty much every time I got the slightest bug, it would turn into bronchitis, a sinus infection, or even pneumonia. Now that I am on a set of medications that works for me, I both get sick less AND I have strategies from my doc of what to do when I start to feel like I'm coming down with something, to take extra good care of my lungs and prevent escalation. This difference has been WAY more significant than the differences I've noticed of being in different climates. Point being, if your kids are having this issue, it IS something you can troubleshoot with your asthma specialist (or if he doesn't want to, find someone new!). Changing an inhaler/adding a daily inhaler (I now have a daily maintenance inhaler + an emergency inhaler, but I had to try a few of the daily ones to find one that worked for me/didn't have side effects I wasn't willing to put up with), etc. etc. can all make a big difference.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:46 AM on January 14, 2015

So basically melissasaurus dropped the mic. But I just wanted to point out a few things as an adult who's childhood asthma didn't go away.

#1 It's not so bad. I only really had an appreciation for what asthma was when I was in my late teens. (Never having walked a mile in another person's lungs?) It will be difficult for your kids to understand why and how it is different for them.

#2 You say their asthma symptoms are only really aggravated by colds or allergies. You also need to consider the reverse correlation: less efficient lungs, more chances for an upper respiratory infection to hang out and party down in your lungs. Your kids might not be able to understand or articulate how well they are breathing, so frequently checking with a peak flow meter can help. A pulseox can be found pretty cheaply on amazon too.

#3 Kids get sick a lot. They're supposed to. They're training their immune systems. 6-8 colds a year of 1-3 weeks in duration is normal.

#4 Cold can absolutely aggravate asthma. Not just cold weather, but Ice cream or ice water too, since your esophagus and your bronchia are right next to each other. In winter, teach your kids to breathe through their nose, and ideally breathe through a scarf or balaclava. Try and warm up the air before it gets to your lungs. Warm drinks can help if you're outside for a long time too.
posted by fontophilic at 9:51 AM on January 14, 2015

Make sure the family's vitamin D levels are in the recommended range before considering moving anywhere. A supplement is probably the only way to get enough vitamin D through the darker months. Your dosage should vary throughout the year to compensate for availability of sunlight.
posted by oxisos at 9:53 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

We live in Texas, and my nephew down here has frequent asthma attacks. She's probably thinking of deserty places like New Mexico, which can be easier on some people because there is less pollen, although I don't know what the pollutants are like in the cities there. Many Southern places have high amounts of pollen and pollutants too.
posted by emjaybee at 10:29 AM on January 14, 2015

I get sick seemingly more often now that I live in the Baltimore area than when I lived in the Boston or NYC areas.

Although I still get winter and snow, it's not as much, and summers are unbearably hot and humid. Yet I get sick more. So it's not the warmer climate.
posted by tckma at 10:32 AM on January 14, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the data, anecdata, and ideas. This is the first year that things have spiraled out of control and I'm feeling really demoralized. I think my mom is engaging in some wishful thinking - she really just wants us closer to her. But of course because moms are moms that gets expressed in judgmental commentary about our lifestyle and my crappy defective kids (who, I mean, she loves dearly, she's just also frustrated that they're sick so much in the winter).

It's good to hear that the allergists have been helpful to you - we should have already been to see the one we were referred to but had to cancel because baby had flu/pneumonia and was on the verge of being admitted to the hospital. (Thanks a lot, flu vaccine.) Both kids just recently started daily controllers; around here you get one 'free' course of oral steroids per year and if you need a second you go on a controller. We have a nebulizer and use albuterol at the first sign of trouble but this year it hasn't been enough.

fontophilic's #2 is spot-on: They get a virus, it gets in their lungs, they wheeze and retract, their lungs fill with mucus, they get miserable coughs, and occasionally things get bad. Once it got ICU bad, and I'm pretty sure the baby would have been admitted to the hospital for her pneumonia a couple weeks ago if they hadn't been so damn full.

I'm happy to wipe noses and comfort sniffles and provide chicken soup ad nauseam. I just want the kids to breathe and I want to stop calling the pediatrician's office because one of the kids has labored breathing again and needs to be seen ASAP.

Anyways, thanks again.
posted by telepanda at 10:49 AM on January 14, 2015

Anecdote: my asthma was much worse in Italy than it is in Boston and so were my allergies. There are correlations between cold and sickness but there are also correlations between any number of other things.

Before moving I would definitely try a humidifier (if you don't have one already) and, for the adults (or check with a pediatrician), vitamin D supplements which made a dramatic difference in how often I get sick. It's been the only supplement my doctor has ever recommended and it has really helped me feel better in general.
posted by lydhre at 10:55 AM on January 14, 2015

Exposure to animals, like cats and dogs, can lead to severe allergies and asthma, even when the animals (or whatever it is) are not around--just the proteins need to be present. If they are allergic to animals they will have an increased probability of sensitivity to other allergens, such as pollen. The immune system is ratcheted up. Can you determine what the major allergy is? Perhaps moving would help if only to remove yourselves from whatever is in the home you are currently residing.

I was an allergic, asthmatic hot mess when I had a cat and it affected my life dramatically when kitty passed away. I was able to breath freely after 12 years suffering. I was no long allergic to pollen too.
posted by waving at 10:57 AM on January 14, 2015

I'll say that moving from Houston to San Francisco increased my cranky respiratory system into full blown asthma party. Same humidity, less pollution, less allergens.

Part of it might have been getting older, and I was on this road all along. But during our drought/heatwave I felt the best I have since I moved up here (even after factoring in the guilt of applauding a terrible thing)

So I definitely think there's something to heat. And sun. At least for me. I've added a super intense facial steamer to my routine, which is doing a more efficient job than the boil salt water thing. And the gross neti pot to stop stuff from lingering in my system. And I've considered tanning as an option due to the fog/low sunlight.
posted by politikitty at 10:57 AM on January 14, 2015

I don't even have asthma and going outside into the cold air makes me cough so hard that I sometimes puke. I can't imagine how horrible it would be to have that on top of an existing respiratory illness. So if cold air seems to aggravate their breathing problems then yes, living somewhere warmer should help with at least that aspect.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:34 PM on January 14, 2015

I think my mom is engaging in some wishful thinking - she really just wants us closer to her.

Ha -- my response when I read your question was, basically"lemme guess, your mother doesn't like cold weather, and therefore her grandbabies are obviously in peril, and also she'd like you to know that her opinions come from greater mom experience SO THERE."
posted by desuetude at 1:05 PM on January 14, 2015

Have your kids been in the same house their whole lives? Don't discount the possibility that your house (mold, mites, dust) could be triggering asthma that flares in colder weather.
posted by juniperesque at 1:14 PM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think my mom is engaging in some wishful thinking - she really just wants us closer to her.

This was so obvious that I didn't even think it worth remarking upon. If your mother lived in Alaska, she'd tell you that the clean air would be better for them.
posted by empath at 2:29 PM on January 14, 2015

More anecdata here from central coastal California. It almost never gets cold enough to snow, and the air is coming off the ocean so it is pretty clean. I remember reading somewhere that asthma rates are pretty low in my town, although they are quite a bit higher if you drive 30 minutes or so into the sprawl.

My experience with kids, and from what I've heard from friends and coworkers is that the first couple of years a kid goes to any sort of school is an endless train of back to back sicknesses (colds/flues).

So in short maybe asthma would be better, but not kids trading germs at school.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 7:17 PM on January 14, 2015

Re: the asthma -- This may sound weird, but do the kiddos eat much yogurt/kefir/some-kind-of-probiotic-containing food? Anecdotally, ensuring I have kefir or Greek/Bulgarian yogurt every day has cut my use of a rescue inhaler down to almost nothing. I stop the yogurt for a bit, asthma eventually comes back, I start up my regime again, and like clockwork...breathing well again.

Quick Google search gave me this study about probiotics and asthma: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19119700, there's probably more/better research about the gut-lung connection out there, though.

And try to avoid yellow #5 as it's been known to exacerbate asthma, too. It's hard to completely cut it out, feels like everything "kid-centric" is loaded with it, but after a few bad asthma attacks, I avoid it like the plague.
posted by jenh at 9:29 PM on January 14, 2015

Just plain getting out of the nasty city air would probably do you all a world of good... but that's coming from someone who grew up in an area with good air. Every time I try to spend more than a couple of days in a smog zone (even on so-called "good" air quality days), I'm struggling with breathing... and I don't even have asthma!

The other big thing is public school... it's one heck of a breeding ground for illness. Too many kids, all together in the same place, the results are not at all surprising.
posted by stormyteal at 5:10 PM on March 5, 2015

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