May 21, 2008 > May is Peak Season for Asthma and Allergy Sufferers
May is Peak Season for Asthma and Allergy Sufferers
Awareness Month Focuses on Ways to Reduce Symptoms
May is a particularly tough month for people with asthma and allergies. Pollens are at their peak, making life difficult for many. That's why May has been designated Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
"Northern California has the highest grass pollen levels in the U.S.," said Dr. Jeffrey Kishiyama, an allergist and immunologist at Washington Hospital. "Both grass and tree pollens are pretty high here in the Bay Area."
Sneezing, sinus congestion, coughing, and itchy or watery eyes are all signs that spring allergens are in the air. Wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath are associated with asthma.
An allergy is when your body overreacts to substances that don't cause problems in most people. These substances are called allergens and can include pollen, mold, animal dander, and dust. When people with allergies encounter the substance they are allergic to, their bodies react by releasing chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is one of the most common allergic conditions. Symptoms usually develop immediately after you have been exposed to an allergen.
Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between allergies and a cold because the symptoms are very similar. With a cold, mucus from your nose is thicker and often yellowish green. But with an allergy, it is thin and watery. Colds should last no more than seven days, while allergies last as long as you are exposed to the allergen.
"While avoiding allergens is the best measure, it's not always practical if you are allergic to outdoor allergens," Kishiyama said. "In just a few minutes outdoors, you can inhale enough allergens to affect you all day."
To reduce exposure, people who have outdoor allergies should avoid being outdoors in the early morning when pollens are typically released and late afternoon when winds are more likely to spread pollen around. It's also important to keep windows and doors shut when possible.
Allergies Can Lead to Asthma
Asthma is considered an allergic disease and symptoms can be triggered by many of the same things that can aggravate allergies, including pollen, mold, animal dander and dust. It is a chronic lung disease that causes the inside of the airways to become inflamed and swollen, which restricts the flow of air.
While it is not clear what causes asthma, scientists believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including a family history of asthma and allergies. New research also suggests being exposed to tobacco smoke, infections, air pollution, and some allergens early in life may increase your chances of developing asthma.
"Allergies can actually cause asthma," Kishiyama said. "Scientists are now looking at what we call the 'allergic march.' It focuses on a percentage of kids who first start out with excema. Then they develop food allergies. By age 6 or 7, they have hay fever. Eventually, they are diagnosed with asthma. Researchers are now looking to see if there is a way to stop this progression early on."
Both asthma and allergy symptoms can make you miserable, taking a serious toll on quality of life. In fact, asthma and allergies are a leading cause of missed school and work days.
"A lot of times people assume they just have to live with it," Kishiyama said. "But the fact is there are a number of effective treatments available today."
Antihistamines and other medications that control the allergic response can help reduce symptoms for people with allergies. In more extreme cases, allergy shots can help the body develop a certain kind of immunity to a specific allergen and eventually block it from causing symptoms.
Asthma is treated with two kinds of medications. Quick-relief drugs that instantly open the airways and stop asthma symptoms and long-term control medicines that reduce inflammation, keeping the airways open over time and preventing symptoms.
"With proper management, most people with asthma and allergies can control their symptoms and live a quality life," Kishiyama said. "You should work with your healthcare provider to make sure you are keeping your asthma and allergies under control."