Allergy/Asthma Information Association

How to Enjoy the Outdoors with Allergic Asthma

by Dr. Ross Chang, MD, FRCPC, Vancouver, BC

Now that spring is upon us our thoughts turn to enjoying the great outdoors and all the activities that British Columbia is so famous for. But patients with allergic asthma may have problems with outdoor activities because our spectacular environment may trigger their allergy and asthma symptoms.

How do you know if you have asthma?
Typical asthma symptoms include fatigue, dry cough, chest tightness and congestion, shortness of breath, and wheezing. The symptoms are often intermittent but may be worse at high and triggered by smoke, exercise, extremes of temperature and respiratory infection. There is often a family history of asthma or respiratory disease. Symptoms may start in childhood or may be delayed well into adulthood. The severity of the symptoms may vary from being mildly annoying to severe requiring hospital treatment. If untreated, asthma symptoms may cause absenteeism from work and school, and significantly reduce exercise tolerance and the ability to enjoy the outdoor activities like hiking, biking, running or even walking.

How do you know if you have allergies?
Allergies are found in about 30% of the population in all age groups. Allergies often run in families. There is a wide spectrum of allergy conditions including allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), allergic skin rash (eczema & hives) and anaphylaxis. Having one allergy condition makes it more likely to have another. From example: 80% of people with allergic asthma also have allergic rhinitis. In addition to asthma, typical allergy symptoms include itchy watery eyes, a runny sneezy congested nose, itchy skin, and GI upset with gas, bloating, abdominal cramps and even diarrhea.

What are common allergy triggers?
Allergic asthma (and rhinitis) may be triggered by environmental airborne allergens such as tree, grass and weed pollens, dust, molds and animal danders. Depending on the allergen trigger, allergy symptoms may have a seasonal or year round pattern. Seasonal allergies are triggered by wind pollinating plants including trees, grasses and weeds. The pollination season can start as early as January on BC's west coast and continue until October in Eastern Canada. Different plants will pollinate in different months. Trees start pollinating as soon as they winter weather breaks as early as January and continues until May. Grasses begin pollinating in April and last through the summer. And weeds start pollinating in the summer and continue through the autumn. The amount of pollen is determined by the local weather and growing conditions. In warmer windier weather, the plants produce more pollen and trigger more severe allergy symptoms.

What is the best treatment for seasonal allergic asthma?
The challenge for people with allergic asthma is to enjoy outdoor activities during the spring and summer pollen seasons. The best treatment for all allergies is to avoid the allergen triggers. For pollens, it is essential to know which months cause the worst allergies. Although staying indoors during these months would improve the allergies, we all want to lead a healthy lifestyle and be active outdoors. So controlling the allergic asthma with medications is important. The asthma inhalers are the cornerstone of treatment and available by prescription through your doctor. Asthmatics should have both a controller and reliever inhaler or a combination inhaler. During the pollen allergy season, taking the asthma medication regularly will give the best asthma control and allow the most enjoyment of spring and summer outdoor activities.

Is there long term treatment for allergic asthma?
Allergic asthmatics whose symptoms are not well controlled with the asthma medications or who have had allergies for a long time should consider having allergy desensitization injections. An allergy injection program is prescribed by an allergy specialist doctor and can give long term often permanent control of allergic asthma symptoms.

from Allergy & Asthma News, Volume1 2012

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