Breathe Easy: seasonal allergies & respiratory conditions
Breathe Easy: Seasonal Allergies and Respiratory Conditions
It seems like we barely recover from cold and flu season when allergy season arrives in North Carolina. Sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes, drainage… all common symptoms of allergies.
When a person says they have ‘allergies’ that typically means their immune system is defending the body against something that’s not actually there. Sounds odd, but it’s true. The body remembers defending itself against bacteria and viruses, so when generally harmless allergens such as pollen or mold enters the body, the immune system defends the body through allergic reactions.
A main type of seasonal allergies is Allergic Rhinitis, commonly called Hay Fever, that is triggered by indoor or outdoor allergens like pet dander or pollen. With many people, Hay Fever is something to be endured for a few weeks during the year. It usually includes sinus pressure, congestion, sneezing and runny nose among other symptoms.
It’s best to try to prevent Hay Fever from setting in by avoiding the substances that cause the reaction. But, if you do end up with a mild case, you can try over-the-counter medication first. If the case continues to be bothersome, talk with your doctor about prescription medications.
Another condition that typically stems from allergies is Sinusitis, the inflammation or infection of the four pairs of cavities behind the nose.
Congestion in the cavities behind the nose leads to pressure and pain around the eyes, nose and cheeks of a patient. Extended cases of Hay Fever often increases the likelihood of chronic Sinusitis, which is persistent inflammation of those cavities. That’s why if you continue to have symptoms of allergies, it’s best to be checked by a doctor so the problem can be addressed and hopefully doesn’t further develop into other conditions.
Asthma is a lung disease that narrows or blocks the airways causing shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and other breathing difficulties. Asthma attacks can be triggered by allergies and 80% of all asthma diagnoses come from allergic reactions.
Allergic asthma cases present the same symptoms as nonallergic asthma, but can be determined because it is set off by an immune response to specific allergens. And, in most, cases those allergens are found indoors, such as pet dander, house dust mites and mold.
North Carolina Air Quality
People with allergies or other respiratory conditions are more susceptible to the effects of poor air quality. Air pollution can irritate the lungs and respiratory system making asthma worse, triggering asthma attacks, or even cause the onset of asthma.
The North Carolina Division of Air Quality (ncair.org) forecasts and rates air quality based on a numeric scale of zero to 300 called an Air Quality Index, with zero being good air quality and 300 being very unhealthy air quality. The index is color coded for easy reference:
Code Green = Good (0– 50)
Code Yellow = Moderate (51– 100)
Code Orange = Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (101– 150)
Code Red = Unhealthy (151 – 200)
Code Purple = Very Unhealthy (201 – 300)
People with respiratory problems, older adults, and caregivers of children should pay attention to air quality ratings and take proper precautions on days when the air quality index is elevated. Limit outdoor activity on those days and always take any medication as prescribed by your doctor.
Testing and Treatment
It’s best to know exactly what you are allergic to so you can prevent or lessen your exposure to the things that trigger your allergic episodes and so that you can get proper treatment for your specific condition.
There are two main categories of allergy testing. The “prick test” involves pricking the skin with the extract of a specific allergen and then observing the skin for a reaction. There are also blood tests called Serum-specific IgE antibody tests that provide similar information gained by taking the skin test.
Once your specific triggers are determined, your healthcare provider will better be able to treat your individual case. The best treatment is to avoid the allergens, which is sometimes easy and sometimes not so easy. If the allergen is a food item, you can remove the food from your diet, but if the allergen is airborne, like ragweed pollen, it can be almost impossible to avoid.
Using air purifiers, filters and humidifiers can help, but none are 100% effective. Usually a combination of medications, over-the-counter and prescription, are the most effective means of treatment.
- Antihistamines counter the effects of histamine, the substance that during allergic reactions makes eyes water and noses itch and causes sneezing.
- Nasal Steroids are anti-inflammatory sprays that help decrease inflammation, swelling and mucus production.
- Cromolyn Sodium is a nasal spray that can help stop Hay Fever by blocking the release of histamine and other chemicals that can cause symptoms.
- Decongestants thin nasal secretions and help reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Immunotherapy, allergy shots, may be a good choice for patients who don’t get relief from other treatments. The shots alter the body’s immune response to allergens helping to prevent allergic reactions.
Work with your primary care doctor, pulmonologist or allergist and take your medication as prescribed to help ease seasonal allergies and to get you back in the swing of Spring.