Outdoor allergy season got off to a running start for many regions in the U.S. this year. The mild and shortened winter combined with the unseasonably hot early spring and summer has resulted in an escalation of allergy problems for millions of people. Hay fever problems were first ushered in by a wave of tree pollen in February. In fact, I remember some patients complaining of seasonal allergy symptoms in the latter days of January (unheard of in the Chicago area).
Maintaining asthma control has also been challenged by the intensity of outdoor allergy pollens and molds but other triggers exist which are often under estimated. These include:
1) Weather changes - Temperature, Humidity Levels, and Barometric Pressure
2) Pollution - Ozone, Carbon Monoxide, Fossil Fuel Emissions (Nitrogen oxides, Sulfur Dioxide, Volatile Organic Compounds and Heavy Metals), Small Particulate Matter (from soot, industrial dust, tires and other materials)
3) Wildfire Smoke - A mixture of gases and small particles from burning trees and other plant materials
Those of us that live in the Midwest are very accustomed to weather changes but the extreme climate change kicked off by the early spring heat spell seems to have had a greater impact on allergy and asthma sufferers. Although some areas of the country have had very little rainfall, humidity levels have remained high enough to boost mold spore counts in our area.
The contribution of wildfire related air pollution from the Colorado fires will be difficult to measure but is evident. The more important concern of the day is the fact that the fires may not be over, and thousands of people have no homes to go back to.
Summer has just officially started in America so what steps can you take to maintain better asthma control? I’m happy to address this:
1) If you have been experiencing increased asthma symptoms follow-up with your asthma care provider in order to review how medications should be adjusted.
2) Ask your doctor to provide or update your Asthma Action Plan (AAP). This is your written guide for addressing asthma flare-ups before they become more severe. The AAP empowers patients and parents such that days and nights of active asthma symptoms can be minimized.
3) Ask your doctor or nurse to evaluate your inhaler technique. If you use a nasal spray for rhinitis, have your nasal spray technique checked. Flaws in inhaler and nasal spray use are often why asthma and sinus symptoms persist despite regular doses of medication.
4) Check on air quality weekly (Air Quality Index). The AQI is often reported locally and can alert you to hazardous outdoor conditions. This may be helpful in planning recreational activities or in making choices about whether to participate in them.
5) Keep windows at home closed (as well as in the car) and run the a/c as much as possible. Change the air filters if time to do so.
6) Review other indoor environmental controls to assure that all steps are being taken to minimize exposure dust mite, indoor molds and pollutants that originate indoors (gas burning, wood burning, fragrances, fumes etc.).
7) Plan ahead for picnics, camping trips and other outings by establishing which medications should be taken more often or at a higher dose for prevention. Your doctor or nurse can address how nasal allergy medication as well as asthma meds can be taken for prevention of flare-ups in high risk situations.
Summer is such an exciting time of the year for families. A healthy summer is an essential ingredient to a happy summer. Asthma control can almost always be achieved by partnering with your doctor and his/her staff, and establishing the guidelines. I hope this posting has been helpful.
Are you having a more difficult time with asthma control this year?
What do you think is impacting your quality of life the most?