NYACK, N.Y. -- Seasonal allergies can be more than a nuisance for people with asthma; tree pollen and other allergens can cause serious breathing problems. However, taking simple steps to reduce exposure can go a long way in providing relief.
"For people who are allergic to pollen, the body’s immune system mistakes pollen as an invader, and reacts by releasing chemicals that can lead to allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes or skin reactions," said Dr. Lourdes de Asis, section chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nyack Hospital. "For some people, this same reaction also affects the lungs and airways and leads to asthma symptoms"
The correlation between allergies and asthma is strong: 40 percent of people with seasonal allergies also have asthma, and up to 80 percent of people with asthma also have nasal symptoms. “Sinusitis is also a big contributor to asthma flare-ups, and since people with allergies are more prone to sinus infections, it’s a double-whammy,” said de Asis.
When looking for relief, sufferers have only one medication option, Singulair, which is prescribed to treat both asthma and allergies. "The medication is only effective for people with mild asthma and allergies," said de Asis. "For people with more severe asthma and/or allergies, doctors usually prescribe inhaled steroids for asthma, and antihistamines and nasal steroids for allergies."
People with more severe allergies should talk to their doctor about the possibility of receiving allergy shots, or immunotherapy, de Asis advised. "Allergy shots gradually reduce the immune system’s response to certain allergy triggers," she said. “Some studies also suggest taking allergy shots may prevent developing asthma later on.”
While it is impossible to completely avoid pollen, seasonal sufferers can take steps to minimize their contact:
- Avoid playing or exercising outside in the morning, when pollen counts are highest. Pollen counts are available through a variety of phone apps.
- When pollen counts are high, keep the windows in cars and homes closed. Use the air conditioner to filter and recirculate the air.
- Take a shower before bed to avoid spreading pollen on the pillow.
- If you have an outdoor pet, wipe down their coat before bringing them inside.
“There are many good treatments available for people with asthma and allergies, so no one has to suffer,” said de Asis. “If you work with your doctor and pay attention to pollen levels, you can still enjoy all the activities you usually take part in the rest of the year.”
For more information on asthma and allergies, click here.