Asthma and Allergy
The spring here in Conroe was beautiful this year. Wildflowers lined the highways and populated the parks and state forests. Though they were a feast for the eyes, some of us couldn’t fully appreciate them because the pollen they brought along with them troubled us with watery, itchy eyes and runny noses. May is allergy and asthma awareness month; so, I wanted to take some time to talk about these two very common medical conditions and what we can do to help ourselves better manage these conditions. You or someone you know probably has seasonal allergies. Around 60 million people in America suffer from seasonal allergies. The most common trigger is pollen, and the most common symptoms are red and watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose, nasal congestion, and hives. When pollen or another allergen enters your body, your immune system has an over reaction to the allergen because it mistakes the pollen as a threat. Your body releases cells to fight off what they assume is a threat, and that’s where your symptoms come from. This is why it is sometimes hard to differentiate a viral or bacterial infection from allergies. Typically, you can pinpoint the trigger for your allergy symptoms. Common triggers are pollen, pet dander, weather changes, and air pollution. Allergies are not associated with fevers and can last for weeks to months. It is very rare for a viral or bacterial infection to last that long. The red eyes that you develop with allergies can be easily confused with pink eye. However, allergies usually cause redness in both eyes and itchiness, while bacteria infections in the eye are usually only one eye with green discharge surrounding the eye. The runny nose you get with allergies is usually clear, while viral or bacterial infections usually produce thick yellow/green discharge from your nose. There are many over-the-counter medications that you can take for seasonal allergies including Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra. We prefer these because they don’t tend to make you drowsy like other over-the-counter allergy medicines such as Benadryl. Nasal sprays like Flonase are also great with helping to control the bothersome symptom of runny nose.
Though I mainly talked about seasonal allergies, it is important to remember there is a severe form of allergies that can cause anaphylaxis. This is a reaction so severe that it can cause you to stop breathing. If you have ever experienced a severe allergic reaction, it is important that you carry an Epi pen. If your allergy symptoms are not controlled with avoiding the allergen or these over-the-counter medications, please make an appointment with your primary care provider for further testing and medical management.
Asthma, though less common than seasonal allergies, is also a fairly common medical condition. Around 25 million Americans are diagnosed with asthma. Asthma is a condition of the lungs due to spasms, inflammation, and narrowing of the airway. Common asthma symptoms include wheezing, feeling short of breath, productive cough, and chest tightness. Unfortunately, asthma is incurable, but we can do things to limit the severity of symptoms. Depending on how frequently you experience these symptoms helps your health care professional determine your severity. If you have mild asthma, you may only need a rescue inhaler when you need it. If your asthma is more severe, you might need to be on daily asthma medication along with as needed inhalers for persisting symptoms. Like allergies there are many triggers for asthma and knowing what your triggers are can be helpful in controlling symptoms. Some triggers include pollen, air pollution, pet dander, smoke/cigarette exposure, cold air, and infection.
There is a big difference between allergies and asthma in that asthma attacks can be dangerous and even land you in the hospital. About 500,000 people are hospitalized for asthma each year. One of the best ways to prevent asthma attacks is know your asthma action plan. This plan includes a list of medications you should take everyday for your asthma, warning signs and symptoms to recognize if your asthma is getting worse, what other medications to give if your asthma gets worse, and when to call an ambulance or go to the ER. These plans are created with you and your health care provider and are individual to each patient. If you have ever been hospitalized for an asthma attack or been seen by a doctor multiple times a year for asthma flare ups, I would recommend meet with your health care provider to establish a plan.
It's easy to see why asthma and allergy awareness falls in the same month—they go hand in hand. The big take away that I would like you to get from this article is that avoiding triggers for both asthma and allergies is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make in order to control both medical conditions. I know that we can’t control or predict the weather, but local weather forecast can give their predictions. You can try staying indoors if the pollen or air pollution is bad. You can try frequent cleaning/vacuuming to get rid of any lingering pet dander in the house. Encouraging family and friends to stop smoking around you could also help. There is definitely a place for prescription medications and for that I would encourage you to talk to a health care professional. Regardless of medication use, understanding of your triggers can be empowering and can go along way in terms of long-term health. Now that we’ve learned a little bit more about allergies and asthma, hopefully next year we can take time to stop and smell the flowers, without out all the itchy eyes and runny nose.
Dr. Nieto is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.
Sources: AAFP CDC AAFA UptoDate