Will living in New York City make my asthma worse?

Originally Published: April 16, 2004
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Alice,

I desperately want to attend school in NYC, but have one reservation. I'm asthmatic and I'm afraid that my asthma will be worse in a big city. I traveled to NYC for a week this summer and was fine, but have heard it could be worse in the winter. Can you advise me? I so don't want to let my asthma limit my dream of going to school in NYC.

Dear Reader,

It's true that New York City can pose problems for people with asthma. Sperling's BestPlaces ranked NYC as one of the country's "10 Most Challenging Asthma Hot Spots" because of the city's high level of ozone, an air pollutant that can trigger asthma attacks. That said, you were able spend a week breathing easy in the Big Apple during the summer, a time when ozone concentrations tend to be particularly high. This could speak highly of your chances to spend a happy, healthy college career in Gotham.

Asthma episodes are triggered by different things in different people (perhaps your asthma isn't particularly sensitive to ozone). The following are triggers that make asthma worse:

  • tobacco smoke
  • animal dander
  • cockroach droppings and remains
  • dust mites
  • pollen and mold
  • exercise
  • sulfites in foods
  • cold air

If you're unsure of exactly what triggers your asthma, a talk with your allergist or health care provider could be helpful and informative.

Speaking of cold air, you mentioned that you'd heard winter is a bad time for people with asthma. This would be true if you're studying in NYC, Siberia, or the South Pole. You can help prevent asthma by keeping your mouth and nose covered with a scarf on particularly cold or windy days. The same idea goes for other asthma triggers — if you know what makes your asthma worse, it'll be easier to know how to take care of yourself, wherever you are.

Similarly, if you do end up going to school in NYC, keep an eye on the weather report for "Ozone Action Days," days where ozone concentration is high. Even if you're not particularly sensitive to ozone, it's a good idea to spend much of an Ozone Action Day indoors, if it's possible.

Good luck in choosing schools! If New York City's the place you gotta be, take some time to think about your asthma and, just to be safe, have a conversation with your health care provider or allergist before you pack your bags — s/he will be able to give you more individualized advice on how to manage your asthma in a large metropolis such as NYC, or make a referral to someone in NYC who can help you manage your asthma. Wherever you end up, keep an eye out for what could make your condition worse, and don't let your asthma get in the way of your dreams.

In a New York state of mind,

Alice