Runny nose and red eyes that come on every time the pollen blows are typical allergy symptoms many of us deal with this time of year. But when the lungs are involved, an allergic response can include asthma.
“In general, an allergy is where the immune system is over-reacting to something in the environment,” says Joseph N. Redhead, Jr., MD, physician at the Baton Rouge Clinic specializing in allergy, asthma and immunology. Typical triggers include pollen, dust mites, mold, cockroaches and pet dander.
Asthma is a chronic and recurring lung condition that includes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. “Allergies are one of many things that can trigger asthma, and for many people, it’s their main trigger,” Dr. Redhead says. Asthma and allergies can develop at any time, often starting in preschool or early elementary school. At least 80 percent of young children with asthma have allergies connected; that drops to about 50 percent in adulthood. “A lot of the younger kids’ asthma will go away, especially when they get into the teen years,” Dr. Redhead says. But that doesn’t mean asthma is outgrown, and about a third will experience asthma again as adults. “Asthma goes into remission is the way I phrase it.”
Asthma is diagnosed based on symptoms and a clinical exam, including breathing tests to measure lung capacity and air flow. Allergy testing can determine exactly what a patient is allergic to. Allergic asthma treatments are similar to chronic asthma that has other underlying causes. Inhalers can provide rapid relief of chest symptoms within 10 minutes, and there are also daily medications that can suppress symptoms. Dr. Redhead says to pay close attention to allergies and control them aggressively. “If you ignore your allergies, you’re not going to control your asthma,” he says.
Avoiding triggers is the best way. “Generally speaking, outdoor allergens are hard to avoid,” Dr. Redhead says. Central heating and air conditioning are key, and don’t ride around with the car windows down.Avoid lawn chores like raking, blowing and mowing, too. Dr. Redhead advises his patients who are allergic to animals to get rid of their pets, but understandably, almost no one follows this advice.