After the winter we have had-- like most of you-- we are ready for the warmer spring weather. After a week of our wish being granted we remembered some of the pitfalls of the gorgeous spring temperatures: pollen, pollen and more pollen. If you have asthma and allergies this can mean a huge increase in asthma symptoms.
Early in the spring tree pollens can wreak havoc on asthma symptoms. Some of the most common include ash, birch, cypress, elm, hickory, maple, oak, poplar, sycamore, walnut and western red cedar. In later spring the grass pollens like bermuda grass, orchard grass, red top grass and timothy grass kick in and trigger flare ups in people allergic to grasses.
Allergies can result in additional inflammation in the airway of asthmatic patients, which is why most emergency rooms see an increase in visits due to asthma complications in the spring. Additional symptoms of spring allergies can include: sneezing, runny nose, itchy nose or throat, watery eyes, wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. While allergies are not contagious, they can definitely make you feel like you have a nasty illness.
If allergies are aggravating your asthma it is important to treat and prevent those reactions to decrease your airway inflammation. Here are a few tips to get your spring allergies under control.
Keep up with your asthma medications.
If winter doesn’t produce any issues for your asthma, you may need to hit the pharmacy and refill your asthma medications in preparation for spring. Be sure to have a rescue inhaler on hand in case it is needed. Reducing airway inflammation with the use of a maintenance medication like Flovent, QVAR or Advair can help prevent asthma attacks.
Get tested for allergies.
If you suspect that allergies might be a trigger for your asthma you may want to consider being tested. An allergist can help you to determine exactly what you are allergic to and tailor treatments to those specific issues. Allergy tests may include blood tests or skin testing.
Take allergy medications.
If you have spring allergies your physician may recommend that you start taking an allergy medication a week or so before the season begins and continue it throughout the allergy season. Antihistamines like Claritin or Zyrtec can be taken daily to prevent reactions. Some people may also do well with steroid nasal spays to reduce the sneezing, coughing and sinus drainage that can aggravate asthma.
Consider allergy shots.
Once you have been tested for allergies your physician may decide to start you on an immunotherapy shot to reduce your body’s reaction to allergens. This therapy can take some time – up to three or more years–so it is best to start it as soon as possible.
Avoid high pollen hours.
The morning tends to have the highest pollen counts. It is best to avoid being outdoors between those peak hours of 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. Staying inside in the air conditioning and recycling the air in your vehicle can help limit your exposure to pollen during those peak hours. Check out the Weather Channel’s allergy tracker tool to determine the pollen levels in your specific area.
Shower at night.
While it may seem small, showering at night can make a big difference in your allergies. During the day pollen and other triggers latch on to your skin, clothing and hair. Taking those clothes off immediately upon returning inside and showering-- including washing your hair-- can dramatically reduce the allergens on your body. If you don’t shower at night those allergens will be in your bed to cause reactions while you sleep and even on future nights.
Allergy season can be miserable, but with a few of these tips you can make it through with the least amount of symptoms and irritation to your asthma.
Jennifer has a bachelor’s degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).
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Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.