In this entry, I would like to address some issues that are relevant to the pollen season of warmer months that is upon us in most parts of the country.
Seasonal pollens and asthma
As discussed in an earlier blog, asthma and allergies are closely connected. Many people know their allergies more as ‘hayfever’. While the origins of this term are unclear, ‘hayfever’ typically refers to allergies that are seasonal and due to pollens.
In temperate parts of the country, the warm months of the year make up three partly overlapping pollen ‘seasons’: mid-April to June, June to late August, and August to October or the coming of the first frost. These three pollen ‘seasons’ are the sequence of high levels of tree pollens, grass pollens, and weed pollens. Both the peak times for each pollen type and the species of pollens themselves vary depending on geography, but the sequence holds true for many parts of the country.
This sequence explains why some people have more hayfever and asthma symptoms during different times of the warm months. Some individuals are fine in the winter but their asthma is more difficult to control throughout the warm season. These individuals likely are allergic to pollens of different types, such as to both trees and weeds. Good asthma control is achieved by close consultation with your doctor and taking both quick relief and controller medications as prescribed. In some cases, it can be helpful to know exactly what pollens one is allergic to. This allows you to work with your doctor to anticipate times of year that are more likely to lead to more asthma symptoms, requiring change in medication to maintain good control.
Controlling pollen exposure
Overall, it is difficult to control exposure to so-called ‘outdoor aeroallergens’ - especially pollens. While our homes may be well climate controlled, no one’s house is airtight, and it is hard to avoid going outdoors. In addition, since pollens are very small granules, they can travel very far from the plant that released them. This means, unfortunately, that living in the city, where there are fewer trees and other plants, does not protect pollen-allergic individuals much from pollen exposure.
There are a few steps that we can take. While we can’t make our homes airtight, we can decrease the amount of pollen coming indoors by keeping windows closed in the warm months and using air conditioning to keep indoor air cool (rather and opening windows). Air conditioning not only keeps air cool, these units usually have an air filter that captures some airborne particles. In addition, air conditioning dehumidifies the air (keeps it dry) - many people who have more difficult asthma in the summer are uncomfortable in muggy hot weather. (This explains why the windshield defogger/defroster in our cars works better when the air conditioning is on - perhaps not so useful to know if you live in