If you’re one of the 25 million Americans who suffer from asthma, the allergens of spring can make it difficult to breathe.
Asthma is a chronic condition in which the airways of the lungs become inflamed and narrow, often due to one or more triggers in the environment. Up to 80 percent of children and half of adults with asthma experience attacks when they come in contact with specific allergens.
During the spring, tree pollens, mold spores, and grass all have the power to inflame and narrow the air passages of people who are sensitive to these natural triggers. Wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing are some of the common symptoms that occur during an asthma attack.
Among the most common triggers for asthma are:
“It’s important to recognize what your triggers are,” says Jeffrey Raub, MD, an allergist and immunologist with TriHealth. “Then you can create a plan of action with your health provider. I’ve lived with asthma for 36 years, so I know how important it is to develop habits that will help you breathe better and make physical activities more enjoyable.”
Here are some tips he offers for managing asthma in the spring or anytime:
1. Take a preventive stance. If you’re especially sensitive to springtime allergens, use air conditioning in the house and car to limit your exposure. If you’ve been outdoors, wash your hair and clothes when you get home to get rid of those allergens. Clear your nasal passages with a Netipot or other nasal irrigation method. Indoors, try to clear your house of allergens that trigger you.
2. Ask your doctor about effective medicines. If you know you have allergies, over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal sprays will help minimize your allergic reaction. “Start your allergy medicines a week or two before allergens are due to come out,” counsels Dr. Raub. He also recommends prescription medicines like Singulair—with your doctor’s consent—to prevent both asthma and allergy attacks.
3. Be familiar with your inhaler. For those times when you can’t breathe, knowing where your inhaler is, how much medicine it contains and how to use it properly can greatly relieve your breathing distress. “Using your inhaler properly is really important for getting the medicine into your lungs,” Dr. Raub says. “If you’re not sure how to use it, ask your doctor or pharmacist.”
4. Know when to seek medical attention. If you’re using two to three puffs of inhaler medicine every 10 to 15 minutes and are still struggling to breathe, seek immediate medical attention. “Despite all the medicines we have available, 3,000 people die each year from asthma. Don’t wait to get help,” Dr. Raub says. For additional information on asthma and its treatment, Dr. Raub recommends the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, acaai.org, and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, aaaai.org.