Common Sense Ways To Avoid the Misery of Asthma and Allergies
by Doug Orens, MBA, RRT
Millions of Americans suffer from asthma and allergy symptoms each day. The incidence of asthma and allergy has continued to increase since the early 1980s across all age, sex, and ethnic groups. Twenty percent of the U.S. population suffers from at least one type of allergic reaction or experiences asthma symptoms. Allergies can be a contributing factor to triggering asthma flare-ups in adults and children.
Allergies are diseases of the immune system that cause an over-reaction to foreign substances called allergens. Allergies are categorized by the time of year, trigger, or where symptoms appear on the body. Allergies have been described as seasonal, indoor, outdoor, perennial, hay fever, nasal, food allergies, latex allergies, insect allergies, eye allergies, and skin allergies. The results of this immune response can be watery or irritated eyes, itching, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and scratchy throat. Severe allergies can result in hives, rashes, difficulty breathing, lower blood pressure, asthmatic attack and even death. There are no cures for allergies but they can be managed with appropriate awareness and prevention techniques. Identifying what causes your allergies is critical to prevention.
Poor indoor air quality is a major issue facing most allergy and asthma suffers. Indoor allergens, including pet dander and dust mites, are typically year-round triggers of allergy and asthma symptoms. Avoiding these triggers is an important part of preventing and treating allergies. Pets that are kept indoors have triggers related to hair and dander that can be airborne, on the carpet, or on the furniture. Ideally, removing the pet from the home would be the best solution. For many people this is not an option, so consider keeping the pet outdoors as much as possible.
Avoid keeping pets in your bedroom and bathe pets weekly using a dander-reducing/eliminating shampoo. Vacuum the carpet and floor frequently making sure your vacuum has a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter. Another helpful solution would be removing carpet from the home. Dust mites and cockroaches are a major cause of year-round indoor allergies. Dust mites are microscopic creatures that live in our bedding, mattresses and pillows. Wash your laundry weekly, especially bed linens, in hot water with a temperature of 130 degrees F. You can purchase dust mite allergen covers from your local department or bedding store.
Cockroaches can be present where food and water are available, such as the kitchen, bathroom and garage. In the kitchen remove or place garbage in a covered container and frequently clean counters and floors. Dust mites and cockroaches both thrive in humid environments. Use a dehumidifier routinely in your home and keep the room temperature below 75 degrees F. Change or clean the filters on dehumidifiers, air conditioners and air filter devices. Avoid contact with latex products if you have a latex allergy.
The outdoors impact many Americans as they come in contact with airborne allergens containing pollen grains, mold spores and animal dander as the season, weather and geographic region play a significant role in exposure to all of these outdoor allergy triggers. It is best to stay indoors and keep windows closed as much as possible during peak allergy season. Limit the use of window fans that can draw pollen into your home. Laundry should not be dried outside, as pollen may collect on your clothes. Change your clothes after spending a lot of time outdoors. Take a bath or shower before bedtime as pollen or mold can accumulate on your hair and skin. Wear a mask and gloves when working outside and afterwards change your clothing.
Both allergy and asthma sufferers should avoid the outdoors during identified poor air quality, which usually occurs during hot and humid weather. Allergy medications should be taken as directed by your physician before going outdoors. Use insect repellent when outdoors to avoid insect stings and potential reactions to bug bites and bee stings.
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by reversible airway obstruction and narrowing of the airways (bronchospasm). Symptoms of asthma include wheezing, cough, chest tightness and shortness of breath with or without exercise. Asthma is commonly divided into two types, allergic (extrinsic) and non-allergic (intrinsic). Treatment of acute symptoms is usually with drugs called short acting inhaled bronchodilators (or beta-2 agonists). These medications open the airways and are typically referred to as rescue drugs. Many of these drugs are dispensed as metered dose inhalers (MDIs), sometimes referred to as “puffers.” To get the most benefit from these drugs, your physician or respiratory therapist should instruct you on the proper inhalation technique when using an MDI. If the drug is not delivered properly to the airways, it will not be as effective in reducing your asthma attack.
You can prevent asthma symptoms by avoiding triggers (such as allergens and irritants) and using corticosteroids. One of the most important ways to help prevent asthma triggers and monitor symptoms is to develop an asthma plan with help from your physician and respiratory therapist. An asthma plan should be individually tailored for each person. Each written plan should include a list of what triggers your asthma, a list of asthma medications with instructions how frequently to take them, how to recognize when your asthma is getting worse, and when to call your physician.
Many asthma plans use a device called a peak flow meter to measure how well air is moving in and out of your lungs. Your physician or respiratory therapist would instruct you on the use of this device. Other asthma plans may rely on your awareness of early warning signs and treating those signs of asthma. Here are some key tips for prevention of asthma attacks.
Asthma and allergies are not curable but both are manageable with an understanding of the disease process and proper prevention techniques.Doug Orens, MBA, RRT, is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care and is a respiratory therapy consultant at the Medical Service Company, in Cleveland, OH. He is also a member of the Regional Leadership Council of the American Lung Association, Midland States.