Your eyes itch and your nose vacillates between running and feeling congested. Achoo! Welcome to allergy season in the Midwest. May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month and we at think are seeing an upsurge in patients dealing with both allergies and asthma.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America notes that in 2021 about 26% of U.S. adults (67 million) and 19% of U.S. children (14 million) were diagnosed with seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Those numbers have undoubtedly increased as allergy season now can be year-round, especially since we’re seeing milder winters, which do not fully kill off plant allergens. Around Omaha and western Iowa, people who haven’t had allergy problems are now starting to have allergy problems. Nasal allergies and asthma are closely related and intertwined.
Is It a Cold or Allergies?
The difference between the common cold and allergies is colds are caused by a virus and nasal allergies are an immune system response of exposure to allergens, such as tree, grass or weed pollen, dust and smoke. A cold typically lasts about a week. Allergies can last several weeks or months depending on what allergen is in the air. The symptoms of nasal allergies can include itchy eyes and nose, watery eyes, runny nose, sneezing, coughing and nasal congestion with sinus pain and pressure. In more severe allergy cases, people can get skin rashes, hives and asthma attacks.
What Is Asthma?
The National Institutes of Health reports that 1 in 13 people in the United States has asthma, the lung condition that makes it more difficult for air to pass in and out of your lungs. Oftentimes asthma is triggered by allergens in the air. The lungs of people with asthma react to allergens in the environment that may not bother other people.
Asthma triggers include pollen, dust, smoke, and exposure to lead paint and other chemicals. Some people get an asthma attack or episode when they laugh or have other emotional responses. Another type of asthma is exercise-induced asthma also known as reactive airway disease. Asthma causes a narrowing of the bronchial tubes in the lungs.
If asthma is untreated or poorly controlled, the bronchial tubes can swell and produce extra mucus that clogs airways. The muscle bands around the bronchial tubes can also tighten and reduce space for air to reach your lungs. During an asthma attack or flare-up, the body responds to an allergen by producing histamines to attack the allergen.
Asthma can cause wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, coughing and shortness of breath in addition to watery or itchy eyes, sneezing and runny nose. As a lung disease, asthma is a chronic medical problem that needs treatment. Without proper care, you can die during an asthma attack or episode.
How to Prevent Allergens
Allergens in the home are the highest risk factor for asthma, so you want to help ensure allergens do not come inside and you avoid contact with allergens. Allergen prevention tips include:
- Close the windows and doors so outside allergens cannot get inside.
- Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.
- Avoid touching your nose.
- Change your clothes and shower if you’ve been outdoors.
- Vacuum frequently to remove pet dander.
- Wash bed linens in hot water.
- Use dust-mite proof covers on box springs, mattresses and bed linens.
- Shampoo carpets and clean upholstery regularly.
- Wear sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat to help shield your eyes from pollen.
- Wear a mask if you’re susceptible to certain environmental irritants.
Remedies for Allergies and Asthma
One of the first defenses against allergies is to take over-the-counter antihistamines or use nasal sprays or antihistamine eye drops. These home remedies do not fully work for everyone and you may need to see a medical professional. Our think medical providers can help with medications and/or nasal steroid sprays, inhalers and other treatments to help relieve allergy and asthma symptoms. Our ear, nose and throat specialist at think can also assist with allergen immunotherapy, getting skin tests and allergy shots for desensitization. Patients with more extensive lung problems may need to see our pulmonologist. Before patients leave the building, they can also consult with our pharmacists for specific allergy and asthma medications.
Who Is Most Susceptible to Asthma?
Asthma is more common than you think. Anyone at any age can get asthma. We see a full range of patients — children through the elderly — with allergies and asthma. Typically, I see patients who are experiencing shortness of breath and wheezing. Maybe it’s a child who can’t run with the other kids. Parents will say they hear their child wheezing all the time and it’s worse at night. Adults may share that shortness of breath gets worse when they try to exercise or are more active.
We’ve had patients come in who could hardly breathe. We’ve given breathing treatments right here in the office and then put people on antibiotics and give them some rescue inhalers. We can also prescribe a breathing treatment machine to use at home with other oral steroids. The combination of treatments really help patients. At times we see young babies with terrible wheezing, and we may direct the parents to take the baby straight to the hospital. The quicker patients get in to see us, the better.
If people are showing symptoms of severe allergies or asthma and they shrug off how their body is reacting, this is where you can end up with problems. Every time you get a respiratory infection or a bronchitis, you can get scarring of the lungs. Once your lungs are scarred your lungs will be less functional.
Asthma is considered a lifetime condition with currently no full cure, but asthma can be managed well so people live healthy, full lives. Getting treatment for asthma and staying active with your treatment can also include getting desensitized to whatever is causing your allergies.
When to Seek Medical Help
If you have shortness of breath with simple movement such as walking and you are experiencing ongoing wheezing, then it’s a good sign that you need to see us at think. Together we’ll do something about your allergies and asthma problems.
Often patients will think their symptoms will get better. When the asthma progression continues, the patients can operate in denial and tell themselves they won’t have to see their doctor just quite yet. But delaying treatment for asthma is risky. Your symptoms can worsen really quickly.
As far as better treatments for allergy-induced asthma, our ears, nose and throat specialist advises prescription medications such as Dupixent® that allow patients to take fewer medicines. If asthma patients can stay on a treatment plan daily, this can help reduce the trips to the doctor. My practical advice for allergy and asthma patients is: use your medicines. Keep up your medication regimen and do not deter from it. We enjoy our relationship with our think patients, but we prefer to see them healthy and out and about in the community.
Need medical Care? Consider Think your go-to for better health
Think Whole Person Healthcare is dedicated to keeping you healthy through preventative care and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions. From the persistent respiratory illness to the sharp pain in the knee, our physicians, advanced practice providers and specialists are committed to you and your family’s lifelong health and well-being. Our walk-in clinic treats anyone, even those who are not a think patient or do not have a primary care provider currently. To learn more about our comprehensive healthcare services, visit our Services page online and choose your own think medical professionals by visiting our Meet Your Doctor page.