ALLERGIES AND ASTHMA
How to Avoid Triggers
By Sherry B. Hanson
Climate change is not the only result of increasing greenhouse gas levels on our planet. ”Pollen levels have been rising for several decades, causing earlier and longer allergy season,” says Clifford W. Bassett, MD, founder and medical director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York (www.allergyreliefnyc.com). First it is important to know the difference between colds and allergies. Colds are viruses, while allergies are caused by exposures to allergens—substances that you react to, such as grass and tree pollen outdoors, or dust and animal dander indoors. These are referred to as triggers. Exercise is also a trigger for some people, as are cold air, mold and mildew, and certain foods.
Signs and Symptoms
One of the first signs that you may be suffering from seasonal allergies and not a cold is when the symptoms do not clear up in a few days. You may also notice that your nasal passages seem to get stuffy about the same time every year, or whenever you visit a friend with a cat or dog. It could be time to seek out the help of an allergist/immunologist. This specialist can test you for reactions to specific substances and determine if you would benefit from long-term treatments such as allergy shots or medications to control inflammation.
What can you do to avoid allergic reactions and go on with life?
Indoors: “The No. 1 hot spot indoors is the bedroom,” says Bassett. Millions of dust mites inhabit your pillow, bedding, mattress and box spring; ditto drapes, curtains and rugs. And if Bowser sleeps in there too, wow! You can purchase washable allergen-impermeable encasings to cover the pillows, mattress and box spring. This can go quite a way toward cutting down the number of dust mites in the bedroom. Do away with drapes and curtains if possible; blinds are easy to keep clean and don’t attract the pesky mites. Your allergist may recommend getting rid of carpeting in favor of wood flooring, linoleum or tile.
Interestingly, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) says indoor air may be more contaminated than outdoor. Throughout your house or apartment there may be tobacco smoke or smoke from a wood-burning stove or fireplace. Mold could be thriving in the shower or damp corners of the bathroom or kitchen. In a city environment, cockroaches are a common problem. And maybe Bowser needs to sleep in the hallway.
Outdoors: Trees and grasses get active in their pollination cycles sooner than you might realize; even as far north as northern New England, tree allergies begin by late February. People with hay fever and asthma can suffer for months from these pollination cycles. If an OTC allergy tablet does not control symptoms, see a specialist. Certain leaf molds can cause allergies, especially in fall. Insect stings can cause life-threatening reactions too, particularly for susceptible asthmatics.
Asthmas: Those with a family history of allergies or asthma are more prone to developing asthma, and the majority of children who get asthma do so before the age of five. It can show up at any age, however, and there is no cure once it becomes a chronic condition. Your airways are always inflamed as an asthmatic. When something triggers your reaction, the airways swell further and the muscles around them tighten, making it difficult for you to move air in and out. Classic symptoms are tightness in the chest, wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.
Exercise-induced asthma is a condition that may occur in people who have allergic asthma, but can also show up on its own. Breathing problems begin within 5 to 20 minutes of exercising.
Cold weather outdoor activities such as cross-country skiing and ice hockey are likely to make symptoms worse, but with proper diagnosis and treatment many people can still participate in these sports and most other activities. Sports requiring short bursts of activity (e.g., baseball, football and sprints) are less apt to trigger symptoms than sports with ongoing activity (e.g., basketball, soccer, field hockey and distance running). “Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction” (EIB) can be managed between you and your physician so that you do not have to be controlled by it.
Other Allergies: “Food allergies, peanut and shellfish in particular, are on the rise,” states Bassett. Education and avoidance are the key to controlling this condition. “Once an allergist confirms that you have a food allergy, epinephrine is the first and only line of defense during an adverse allergy event,” he adds. Your allergist will probably instruct you in the use of an epinephrine autoinjector, if needed.
In The Gym: Rarely, an allergic reaction could occur when you are exercising in the gym if you have a latex allergy and work out on rubber mats. And if you have EIB and are exercising, eating a certain food could make an allergic reaction worse. If a fabric in your clothing induces a rash you may have contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction on your skin. Most times, according Bassett, the trigger is a chemical such as a fragrance or preservative used in skin care products. Your allergist can perform allergen patch tests to determine the culprit.
Bassett stresses that you must work with an allergist to understand your allergies, what triggers them, and determine the best proactive plan for you. Look for an American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology-affiliated specialist (www.aaaai.org). The doctor concludes, “In addition to modifying your environment and avoiding triggers whenever possible, an allergist can prescribe and administer allergy immune-therapy (allergy shots or allergy drops) to help slow down, and hopefully stop, the progression of pesky allergy symptoms for both indoor and outdoor allergies.”
SHERRY B. HANSON has published hundreds of articles and essays in leading print and Web publications such as Toastmaster, Islands, Arthritis Today, and Snowshoemag.com, for whom she is also an assistant editor. You can visit her website at www.sherryhanson.com.
SOURCES: AMERICAN ACADEMY OF ALLERGY, ASTHMA & IMMUNOLOGY. WWW.AAAAI.ORG [ACCESSED MAR 2, 2015] BASSETT, CLIFFORD W., FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF ALLERGY & ASTHMA CARE OF NEW YORK. INTERVIEW. WWW.ALLERGYRELIEFNYC.COM HANSON, SHERRY B., “Allergies And Asthma: How to Avoid Triggers.” American Fitness Magazine. Jul/Aug 2015. P 60-61. Print